Taking exception to the central government's stand that it may not be possible to accord a separate religion status for Lingayats and Veerashaivas who follow Basava Tatva, the Jagathika Lingayat Mahasabha (JLM), which is spearheading the movement, urged the Centre to reconsider the decision.
The Mahasabha is also planning to file a rebuttal to the Centre in the Karnataka High Court. "We will approach with a rebuttal of the three reasons given by the Centre and they have to reconsider the decision. We will also bring up the fact that BJP President Amit Shah hinted in the run-up to the Karnataka elections that the Centre will not accept the proposal," says SM Jamdaar, General Secretary of the Mahasabha.
The Union Home Ministry on Monday wrote to the Karnataka High Court rejecting the state government's proposal for a separate Lingayat religion. The letter was sent during the hearing of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Shashidhar Shanbhog and others challenging the constitution of a panel formed by the Karnataka State Minorities Commission to look into the demand of Lingayats.
In its letter, the ministry stated three reasons for its stance.
1. The proposal has been rejected before.
"The rejected proposal was made by the Akhila Bharatha Veerashaiva Mahasabha and hence it was a private petition. This time, the proposal has been made by the Karnataka government," says Jamdaar in response.
2. There is no documentary evidence.
"We have provided the government with ample evidence. The key document is the 1871 Mysore census which lists Lingayats alongside Jains as a separate entity from Hindu religion," Jamdar says.
The census also lists various sub-castes under Hindu religion including 41 sub-castes of Brahmins. Jamdaar adds that it was after the 1871 Mysore census that Lingayats became a sub-caste under Hindu religion.
3. Community will lose SC privileges
"This was not the case when Sikhism in 1963 and Buddhism in 1993 became a separate religion. They retained their status as a SC. Why won't be the case with Lingayats?," asks Jamdaar.
Jamdaar has been at the forefront of the movement demanding a separate Lingayat religion. He has fronted several press conferences on the issue, particularly in the months leading up to the Karnataka Assembly elections in May this year. A three-day Lingayat convention is currently underway in New Delhi in which the Centre's decision was condemned.
The Siddaramaiah-led Congress government breathed life into the Lingayats' demand for a separate religion by forming an expert committee to look into the issue. Based on the committee's recommendation, the state government proposed to the Centre to accord a separate religion tag to Lingayats.
The run-up to the Karnataka Assembly elections saw several Congress leaders highlight the demand including party president Rahul Gandhi, who narrated Basavanna's vachanas during a campaign speech. The demand however was opposed by Veerashaivas, another community who are also followers of Basavanna.
The Congress' ploy backfired in the elections with three ministers, including former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who supported the movement, lost in their respective constituencies. Following the Assembly elections, Congress leaders maintained a studied silence on the issue until Water Resources Minister DK Shivakumar offered a public admission that the party should not have meddled with the religious demand. The current JD(S)-Congress coalition government have not expressed an interest to support the demand for a separate Lingayat religion.
Jamdaar is unconcerned about the political support for the demand. "The demand is apolitical. It is based on facts and our fight will continue regardless of political support," says Jamdaar. The Mahasabha is planning to challenge the Centre's decision legally in the High Court by drafting a rebuttal to the Centre's letter.