Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee chief Dinesh Gundu Rao on Friday attempted some damage control after several high profile party leaders took different stands on the contentious issue of a separate religion tag for Lingayats. The matter came into the spotlight yet again for the first time since the new government took over when Water Resources Minister and influential Congress leader DK Shivakumar termed the former Siddaramaiah government’s stance on the issue as a “big mistake.”
Former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah had championed the cause of a section of Lingayats and asked the Centre to grant separate religion tag just ahead of the state elections. According to political analysts, this was one of the major reason that the Congress lost ground to the BJP in north Karnataka region, which has a dominant Lingayat population.
On Friday, the KPCC president, who is known to be close to Siddaramaiah, said, “DK Shivakumar’s statement on the Lingayat issue is his personal view and not that of the party.” He insisted that the party does not have a stand on the issue and it is a matter between the “community and the government”.
The KPCC president’s statement came after Lingayat strongman MB Patil and one of the main proponents in the previous government for the separate Lingayat religion tag, has countered Shivakumar’s stance publicly. Even former Congress minister Satish Jarkiholi opposed Shivakumar's stand saying the demand for a separate religion for Lingayats was valid.
On Wednesday, Shivakumar had said, "Our party has made a big mistake in this state. I don't deny it. I always believed, no government should interfere in matters of religion and caste. It was a crime made by our government. Many ministers and leaders spoke about the issue but the verdict of the people in the election is proof that governments should not interfere in these matters. If our government has made a mistake, we ask you for forgiveness."
Later speaking to The Times of India, Shivakumar admitted his statement was personal but reiterated that he regretted the decision of the previous government. Shivakumar's apology was welcomed by Shamanur Shivashankarappa,veteran Congress leader and All India Veerashaiva Mahasabha, and by the BJP’s top brass including its state chief and former CM BS Yeddyurappa and KS Eshwarappa.
This has reportedly triggered some leaders in the state to complain against Shivakumar to the party high command.