Is it really possible for the Karnataka government to assign a separate minority religion status for the Lingayat community?
This is the million-dollar question that the seven-member committee headed by retired High Court Judge, Justice HN Nagamohan Das, intends to probe within four weeks.
The committee, which was formed by the Karnataka State Minorities Commission, will probe representations put before it by five stakeholders. Three of the demands are for a separate minority religion status for Lingayats, one representation stating that the Lingayat community members are Hindus and the other by the Akhila Bharata Veerashaiva Mahasabha 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 panel will hold its first meeting in the first week of January. It has been asked to complete the probe within four weeks.
According to SM Jaamdar, a retired IAS officer who is spearheading the campaign for a separate Lingayat religion, the process of probing the matter can be lengthy and the stipulated period of time may not be enough to probe the matter thoroughly.
According to a senior official with the Karnataka State Minorities Commission (KSMC), experts have been mulling over the legality of the demand for a few months now.
â€śChief Minister Siddaramaiah had promised to form an expert committee to probe the matter but considering the legal aspects, what has emerged after deliberations is that the state government can grant minority status to any group and thatâ€™s why the KSMC has constituted this new panel,â€ť the official added.
However, seers of several mutts have expressed disappointment regarding the governmentâ€™s decision. Speaking at a rally in Gadag district on Sunday, the pontiff of Rambhapuri Mutt, Veera Someshwara Shivacharya Swami, has termed it as a move â€śto divide the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community.â€ť
â€śThe government has not consulted the Akhila Bharata Veerashaiva Mahasabha before forming this panel. The Mahasabhaâ€™s President Shamanur Shivashankarappa has been taken by surprise. The committee members have no idea about the traditions and customs followed by the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community. We are opposed to the way the panel was formed without consultation,â€ť the seer said.
Reacting strongly to the pontiffâ€™s comments, Jaamdar said that the KSMC was right in appointing members who are neutral to the cause as it would ensure objectivity. He also said that the government need not consult the Rambhapuri seer as his statements are in no way related to the demand for a separate Lingayat religion.
â€śYou know what the Rambhapuri seer has been saying. He believes that Lingayats are Hindus. Hinduism is not a minority religion and hence it is not necessary for the panel to consider the views of someone who considers himself a Hindu. The demand is for a separate minority religion status for Lingayats,â€ť Jaamdar added.
Corroborating Jaamdarâ€™s statement, Minister for Mines and Geology, Vinay Kulkarni, said that he had no intention of stopping the Veerashaivas from stating their cause. He only asked the members of the Veerashaiva-Lingayat camp to not come in the way of Lingayats.
â€śWe (the camp demanding separate religion status for Lingayats) do not want to stop the Veerashavas from voicing their opinions. But I only ask that they not create hurdles for our cause,â€ť Minister Kulkarni added.
With the growing demand for a separate Lingayat religion, political parties have lapped up the issue to ensure that their targeted vote bank is intact. Although the BJP has been opposed to the demand, shockingly several members of the Congress too are against the call for a separate minority religion status for Lingayats.
The Veerashaiva camp of the Congress comprises one of its senior leaders, Shamanur Shivashankarappa, who is also the President of the Mahasabha, Shivashankarappaâ€™s son and Horticulture Minister SS Mallikarjun, and Municipalities Minister Eshwara Khandre. The Veerashaiva camp believes that Veerashaivas and Lingayats are the same and claim that the religion existed before Basavannaâ€™s time (12th century).
However, in stark opposition, the Lingayat camp, which supports the demand for a separate religion, is led by Mines and Geology Minister Vinay Kulkarni, Water Resources Minister MB Patil and Higher Education Minister Basavaraj Rayareddy.
The BJP is of the opinion that Lingayats are Hindus, while JD(S) chief HD Deve Gowda has accused the Congress of trying to divide the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community.
â€śChief Minister Siddaramaiah has made a wrong move. It will backfire. He has insulted the community by dividing them,â€ť Udupi-Chikkamagaluru BJP MP Shobha Karandlaje said.