The Union Home Ministry on Monday submitted a letter to the Karnataka High Court rejecting the state government's request to declare Lingayats, Veerashaivas and those who follow Basavanna's philosophy as a separate religion.
The Union Home Ministry's Internal Security Division had issued a letter to the Union Ministry of Minority Affairs on August 24, 2018, stating that Lingayats and Veerashaivas have been classified as Hindus since 1871, and that the members of the community would lose their status as a Scheduled Caste if the proposal was accepted. "It may be pertinent to mention that if Lingayats/Veerashaivas be treated as a separate religion and assigned a separate code other than Hindu, all members of SC professing this religion would lose their status as SC along with consequential benefits," the letter stated.
On Monday, Additional Solicitor General representing the Union government, Prabhulinga Navadgi, told the court that the Centre had rejected the state government's proposal during the hearing of a PIL. Navadgi also stated that a notification stating the same was submitted to the Karnataka government on November 13.
The PIL was filed by Shashisdhar Shanbhog and others challenging the constitution of a panel formed by the Karnataka State Minorities Commission to look into the demand of Lingayats, on the ground that it had no powers.
Based on the Centre's submission, the advocate representing the petitioners, SG Gurumath told the court that the plaintiffs had decided to withdraw the PIL, which was filed. Chief Justice of Karnataka Dinesh Maheshwari and Justice BM Shyam Prasad dismissed the case.
Speaking to TNM, Vishwa Lingayat Mahasabha President Sanjay Makal said, “This is only a temporary setback for us. We were successful in making it part of the agenda of political parties for the first time in years. We will approach the Supreme Court for justice if required. We know the struggle that the Jains had to undergo to be recognised as a separate religion. If required we will ally with leaders from the Patel and Jat community who are also fighting with their respective state governments for their identity and rights. It is the BJP government in Maharashtra that gave 5% reservation to Maratha without any provision for such. We do not understand why this was done to us.”
On March 23 this year, the Karnataka government had granted minority status to Lingayats and Veerashavias who follow Basava Tatva. The state cabinet had approved Justice Nagamohan Das Committee’s recommendation to grant Lingayats and Veerashaivas who follow Basava Tatva a separate minority religion status.
Lingayats, a distinct Shaivate religious tradition, are followers of the 12th century poet-philosopher-social reformer Basaveshwara who rebelled against established Hindu tradition by defying the caste system and vedic rituals.
In their bid for a separate religion status, the Lingayats wanted to dissociate themselves from Veerashaivas, also a Shaivate religious tradition, whose followers adhere to the Vedas.
The movement for a separate religion tag, which was started as far back as 1942, was resurrected in 2017 after Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s promise to look into the demand for a separate religion status for Lingayats and Veerashaivas.
In December 2017, a seven-member expert committee was formed to study five separate demands, three of which were for a separate minority religion status for Lingayats. One representation stated that the Lingayat community members are Hindus and another demanding minority religion tag for the Veerashaiva-Lingayat sect.
The demand for a separate Lingayat religion was revived on the heels of the Karnataka State Assembly elections, which were held in May this year. The run up to the Assembly Elections in May saw several Congress leaders bring up the issue of recommending Lingayats as a separate religion. Even Congress President Rahul Gandhi turned to Basavanna, the 12th century philosopher who founded Lingayatism, to woo voters. However, the party's ploy backfired in the elections. In the north-western region of Karnataka, which has a limited JD(S) presence, the politicking over the Lingayat issue was seen as the determining factor which helped BJP gain a major chunk of seats.
Three senior Congress ministers who were part of the Lingayat movement for separate religion lost in their constituencies while CM Siddaramaiah managed to scrape through with a win in Badami by 1,696 votes. Siddaramaiah lost to JD(S) candidate GT Deve Gowda in the other seat he contested from in Chamundeshwari in Mysuru district which has a significant number of Lingayat population. Congress' move was seen as a ploy to divide the Hindu religion.
On October 18 this year, Water Resource Minister DK Shivakumar had issued a public apology stating that the Congress "should not have interfered in the Lingayat issue."