Retired IAS officer SM Jaamdar and former Karnataka Minister Basavaraj Horatti welcomed the formation of the expert committee to study the demand for separate religion status for the Lingayat community.
The duo, which is spearheading the movement for a separate Lingayat religion, also denied that the agitation had any political links to it.
Speaking at a press conference in Bengaluru, Jaamdar said, â€śOur agitation is apolitical. It is a cultural, religious and social movement that began eight months ago. We have not placed any deadline in front of the government.â€ť He was responding to questions by journalists about the timing of the agitation coming just months before Karnataka goes to polls in 2018.
Jamdaar also welcomed the expert committee formed by the government to study the demand.
â€śLingayats were classified as a separate religion up until the 1871 Mysuru census and it was only in 1881 that Lingayats were classified as a caste under Hindu religion. We are not against Hindus, we only seek separate identity. We will be releasing all historical documents soon,â€ť he reiterated.
Despite the movementâ€™s leaders dissociating their demands from political motives, their claim is supported by Mines and Geology Minister Vinay Kulkarni, Water Resources Minister MB Patil and Higher Education Minister Basavaraj Rayareddy, all part of the ruling Congress government.
BJP leaders, meanwhile, are opposed to the movement and consider Lingayats to be part of Hindu religion while JD(S) chief HD Deve Gowda has accused the Congress of trying to divide the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community.
The movement, which was started in 1942, was resurrected earlier this year by Chief Minister Siddaramaiahâ€™s promise to look into the demand for a separate religion tag for Lingayats and Veerashaivas.
However, the formation of the expert committee to study the issue has been met with criticism from seers of several mutts in the state. Expressing disappointment over the manner in which the expert committee was formed, Veera Someshwara Shivacharya, pontiff of the Rambhapuri Mutt, termed it a move â€śto divide the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community.â€ť
Proponents of a separate Lingayat religion slammed the seers opposing the expert committee and accused them of making derogatory remarks. â€śThis (expert committee) is not a jury. It is a fact-finding committee formed by the government and we condemn the abusive comments made by a few seers. If they oppose everything then there will be no resolution,â€ť said Basavaraj Horatti.
A complication in the Lingayatsâ€™ bid for separate religion status is their desire to dissociate themselves from the Veerashaivas, also a Shaivate religious tradition, whose followers adhere to the Vedas. While both groups have earlier stood united in their demand for separate religion status, there are now divisions between the leaders spearheading the Lingayat movement and the Akhila Bharata Veerashaiva Mahasabha, which represents the Veerashaiva-Lingayat sect.
The expert committee is currently studying five separate demands, three of which are for a separate minority religion status for Lingayats, one representation stating that the Lingayat community members are Hindus and the other demanding minority religion tag for the Veerashaiva-Lingayat sect.
The members of the committee include political scientist Muzaffar Assadi, former Chairman of the Karnataka Backward Classes Commission CS Dwarakanath, head of the Kannada Chair at JNU, Purushothama Bilimale, Chairman of the Kannada Development Authority SG Siddaramaiah and senior journalist Sarjoo Katkar.
The committee will hold its first meeting in the first week of January. It has been asked to complete the probe within four weeks.
The expert committeeâ€™s recommendations will then be studied by the state government before a decision is taken on the claims for a separate religion tag.