The Chief Minister stated that religion is only a way of life, and that anything which divides people can never be considered religion.

Lingayats part of Hindu community Experts say demand for religion status is election gimmick
news Politics Friday, July 21, 2017 - 18:20

After the issue of a state flag, Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has found himself entangled in another controversy. His new move announcing that he is ready to send a recommendation to the Centre seeking minority religion status for the Lingayat community may put him at risk with the the Ahinda vote bank, which the Congress prides on retaining.

“I believe that there should not be any differences of opinion in the Lingayat community. I will send my recommendation to the Centre for giving Lingayatism a minority religion status. Attempting to bring about changes in the caste system is like looking for water in a well of trash. Using the word Lingayat is more appropriate than using the term Veerashaiva,” the Chief Minister told media persons in Dharwad on Thursday. 

The Chief Minister stated that religion is only a way of life, and that anything which divides people can never be considered religion. “I am a staunch follower of Basavanna and had never believed in the caste system. There are those who create communal tension by being pseudo secularists and try to gain politically,” Siddaramaiah said. 

Siddaramaiah’s announcement came just a day after over 50,000 Lingayats, under the umbrella organisation – Lingayat Dharma Samanvaya Samithi, organised a rally in Bidar, demanding a separate minority religion status.

Although the community has been demanding a separate religious status since the 1980s, some believe that there is no need for Lingayats to be separated from the Hindus.

Chidananda Murthy, historian from Karnataka argues that there is no difference between the Veerashaivas and the Lingayats.

“Basavanna, in his teachings, included Vedic shlokas as examples while preaching his Vachanas. Basavanna is a Veerashaiva and a Lingayat. There was a social reformer named Pandaguli Kesharaja. He was a Veerashaiva. Basavanna was responsible for interpreting Kesharaja’s teachings and simplifying it for people. Kesharaja’s book Ksheeramahatmada Kanda speaks of Veerashaivism. There is no difference between Veerashaivas and Lingayats,” he added.

Veerashaiva leaders including the Sahu Halakatti, Nandi Bhat, B Shivamurthy Shastri, Shivakumara Swamiji, had openly said that Veerashaivas are Hindus, Chidananda argues.

Saying that Lingayats have accepted themselves as being a part of the Hindu community, Murthy says that the movement has more to do with benefiting from the minority religion status. 

“The oldest Lingayat seer, the Siddaganga Swamiji has declared that Lingayats are Hindus. The Siddaganaga Mutt has set up a separate school called Sri Siddaganaga Veda Patashala, where vedas are taught to the students. These movements sprout just a year or two before the elections. Since obtaining the minority status will open up doors of freebies for the Lingayats, they are now demanding a separate religion status,” he added.

Corroborating Chidananda Murthy’s argument, political analyst, Sandeep Shastry said that Wednesday’s rally was in direct relation to the caste census.

“The Lingayats have been a politically dominant community in Karnataka. Eight chief ministers in this state were Lingayats. If you look at the unofficial caste census that has not been made public, the percentage of Lingayats is only 12 in the state. For their political gain, the community members claimed that they form the majority of the population in the state. That it is not true, they will lose out on the benefits that they are receiving. Hence, they are demanding minority status,” Shastry added.

Stating that a minority status will open doors to a host of reservation policies that the community could benefit from, Shastri argues that the Lingayat community has always been vocal about the benefits they received from the government.

“They own multiple educational institutions and hospitals. The concessions they can receive is innumerable and they do not want to lose out on this if the new system is implemented. According to the announcement made by the government, the caste census was being conducted to determine which community dominates the state in terms of population and allot funds based on the requirement of said communities. Since 12% is not a big number, the threat of losing out is huge amongst the Lingayats,” Shastry said.

Commenting on Siddaramaiah’s stand on the issue, Shastri said that it is an attempt by the Congress to win back the confidence of the Lingayat community.

In 1989, Veerendra Patil, the Congress leader was elected as the Chief Minister of Karnataka. Just a year later, when he suffered a stroke, Rajiv Gandhi had visited him and announced that a new CM would be appointed for the state despite Patil’s opposition to the move.

“The Lingayat community has never forgiven the Congress government after Patil was ousted. Ever since, Lingayats have never been given prominent positions in the Congress party. It is true that they have Lingayat leaders but they do not wield influence like they do with the BJP. If the Congress supports the Lingayats in this cause, then Siddaramaiah’s Ahinda vote bank will be threatened. The Congress cannot afford to alienate all the castes if they want to win the election,” he said.