Congress president Rahul Gandhi was put to a brief test on Wednesday on Karnataka government’s decision to give minority status to Lingayats.
But Rahul evaded the question put forward by a student deftly and told the audience in an auditorium in Davengere that since the question was state-specific, the best person to answer would be CM Siddaramaiah.
Rahul Gandhi who was on his fifth campaign tour in the the state and was addressing a group of students, small traders at Davanagere.
“Well, what you have asked is a Karnataka-specific question and the gentleman you have to ask is sitting behind me,” Rahul said, calmly while passing the microphone to Siddaramaiah amid loud cheer.
Siddaramaiah to whom the mic was handed over said, “The demand for Lingayat as a separate religion is not new. Lingayat religion was established by Basavanna about 850 years ago. About six months back, Mr Shivashankarappa arranged a meeting to felicitate me... in that he made a request ... “
Shamanur Shivashankarappa is the All India Veerashaiva Mahasabha President and his son SS Mallikarjun, who is part of the Cabinet, had vociferously opposed the decision.
It was at this moment when there were jeers from the crowd, after which the CM gestured and asked them to calm down.
He continued, “Please listen please sit down. I have no objection. Allow me to speak first. You ask me after I speak. Shall I speak in Kannada?”
He then speaks in Kannada, and the jeering reduces.
“This issue was not initiated newly by my government. Mr Shivashankarappa had called me for an event to felicitate me. Before that meeting, Mate Mahadevi (a Lingayat leader) had already held a convention in Bidar demanding separate religion status for Lingayats. She had sent me a representation. During the event, Shivashankarappa said Veerashaiva-Lingayat should be a separate religion. I advised Shivashankarappa to hold talks with those demanding a separate Lingayat religion. The Virakta Mutts, Shivashankarappa's Veerashaiva-Lingayat Mahasabha, several Lingayat seers, Mate Mahadevi, the Pancha Peeta and retired IAS officer Jamdar sent me separate representations for their causes,” the CM said.
“I was under a lot of pressure to decide and hence formed the expert committee. After that we took a decision and sent it to the Central government. The Centre has to take the final decision,” the CM added.
The cabinet decision to recommend a separate religion tag for Lingayats has flared up into a contentious pre-poll issue with the both the Congress and the BJP launching an extensive drive to woo Lingayats who are numerically and politically strong in the state.