Lingayat Mutts split over separate religion issue, Congress stands to gain the most
The demand for a minority religion status, seems to have divided the Lingayat Mutts in Karnataka. Even as multiple views from Lingayat outfits and political organisations have emerged, the demand of a separate religion seems to have divided the Lingayats of northern and southern Karnataka.
On July 19, the Vishwa Lingayat Mahasabha, an umbrella organisation of Lingayat Mutts and political leaders, held a mammoth rally in Bidar. This rally marked the revival of the demand for a separate religion.
The Mahasabha, now plans to hold similar conventions across North Karnataka and the next one will be held in Belagavi on August 22. However, before the convention, the Mahasabha has planned a protest meet in Hubballi on August 14.
According to Mate Mahadevi, Head of the Basava Dharma Peetha, the convention will be held in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu as well.
Corroborating her claim, President of the Mahasabha, Sanjay Makal, said that conventions will be planned in Hubballi and Kalaburgi as well.
“Lingayats are not Hindus and neither are they a backward caste. We follow Basavanna’s Vachanas and not the Vedas. Hence, we should be classified as a separate religion. Just like Christianity, Islam, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism, we too want the status of a minority religion. Apart from the reason that we are not Hindus, the separate religion status will open up opportunities for the members of the community. The government provides Rs 1,600 crore for minorities as a grant. This will help uplift the members of the Lingayat community,” Mate Mahadevi told TNM.
The demand had resulted in several BJP leaders, including the party’s Karnataka President, BS Yeddyurappa, stating that Lingayats are Hindus and that a separate religion status is not required.
Slamming the BJP veteran, Mate Mahadevi said that Yeddyurappa knows nothing about "Lingayat Dharma".
“Since Yeddyurappa is with the BJP, he has sided with the RSS and Hindu organisations. He knows nothing about the Lingayat community. Being a Lingayat man himself, he has betrayed the community by siding with the Hindus. He is doing what his party is telling him to, without any concern for the community,” Mate Mahadevi added.
Stating that the Veerashaiva Lingayat Pancha Peetha of Southern Karnataka had turned its back on the community members, Mate Mahadevi accused the southern Lingayat seers of greed and lack of confidence, as they have not made their stand on the issue clear.
However, the Suttur Mutt’s seer, Jagadguru Sri Shivaratri Deshikendra Mahaswami made stated that Lingayats are Hindus and there is no need for a separate religion.
Mate Mahadevi, however, came down heavily on the Suttur seer’s statement and accused him of being greedy for government grants.
“The Suttur Swamiji only cares about funds for his schools, medical and engineering colleges. As long as he is receiving the funds, he does not care about the members of the community and what they want. He has turned his back on his own community and he calls himself a leader of Lingayats,” Mate Mahadevi added.
Refuting Mate Mahadevi’s claims of giving in to greed, the Suttur Mutt’s spokesperson, Jambukeshwar, said that the seer is well respected in the area and has the support of all the Lingayats.
“Mate Mahadevi knows that the Suttur Swamiji is well respected and extremely powerful in the area. Unlike Mate Mahadevi, the Suttur Swamiji is not getting involved in politics. The Mutts in North Karnataka have started making the demand as they want to become powerful and they have chosen the path of politics to gain that. Unlike Mate Mahadevi, the Suttur seer has maintained power without indulging in politics,” Jambukeshwar added.
Refuting Jambukeshwar’s claims, mate Mahadevi said that the Lingayat Mutts of the north were not getting involved in politics.
“The demand for a separate religion is an old one and many governments have come and gone. We are not doing it because the elections are coming up. However, I’d like to say that the community will support the party which helps our cause. Since Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has assured us of taking up the issue with the Centre, we support the Congress,” she added.
The spokespersons of Siddaganaga Mutt, one of the Pancha Peethas, however, refused to take a side and said they want to remain neutral on the issue.
According to political analyst, Sandeep Shastry, the Congress government, lapped up the opportunity to win the Lingayat votes in North Karnataka, which they had never managed to regain since 1989.
“After Veerendra Patil (a Lingayat leader) was ousted from the post of CM, the entire community turned against the Congress. Ever since they have never been able to regain the support of the Lingayat community. With the Lingayat Mutts themselves being divided, the Congress has seen it as a ripe opportunity to divide the community’s vote,” Shastry added.