Without Centre's nod, is Karnataka stand on Lingayats a mere paper tiger?

Officials with the Department of Minority Welfare say that the community will not be able to enjoy any benefits of minorities until the Centre's approval comes through.
Without Centre's nod, is Karnataka stand on Lingayats a mere paper tiger?
Without Centre's nod, is Karnataka stand on Lingayats a mere paper tiger?
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BJP National President Amit Shah and the party’s Chief Ministerial candidate BS Yeddyurappa paid a visit on Monday to one of the most powerful Lingayat seers in the country – Swami Shivakumara of the Siddaganga Mutt in Tumakuru.

Shah’s quick visit to the influential seer comes just three days after the Karnataka government granted minority status to Lingayats and Veerashaivas, who are followers of Basava Tatva.

The state Cabinet has decided to accord minority status for the community under Section 2(D) of the Karnataka Minority Commission Act 1994, which allows the state to grant minority status to any community after studying the reasons for it.

The Karnataka government has issued the notification granting minority status after the Justice Nagamohan Das Committee report was approved by the cabinet, which stated that Lingayats and Veerashaivas following Basava Tatva can be considered a separate religion.

However, despite the state government’s notification, the community will be able to avail the benefits of having minority status only if it gets the Centre’s nod.

“Swami Shivakumara was happy about the state government’s decision only because of the benefits it would avail for the community. However, he does not believe that Lingayats are not Hindus. Amit Shah’s visit was to ensure that the seer offers his support for the BJP and not the Congress. This has become a sensitive issue for the BJP because now the Centre is going to look bad and no one in New Delhi is willing to issue a notification deeming Lingayats as minorities,” a senior BJP leader said.

Senior officials with the Department of Minority Welfare say that the notification is nothing but a paper tiger.

According to Mohammed Mohisin, secretary, Department of Minority Welfare, if the minority status is notified, the community will enjoy additional benefits in terms of schemes allotted to minorities.

“There are over 20 schemes which educational institutes will benefit from. Lingayats were OBCs and until now they enjoyed 5% reservation. If they are considered as a minority, then they will be able to offer 50% reservation for Lingayats in schools and colleges run by them. Almost a third of the major engineering and medical colleges in Karnataka are run by Lingayats,” a senior official with the department said.

In addition, the educational institutions run by the Lingayat community will be exempted from state government compulsions like the Right To Education Act.

“The state government’s notification means nothing if the Centre does not issue a notification stating Lingayats and Veerashaivas who follow Basava Tatva have been classified as minority. The Centre has to gazette the notification and only then will the community be able to avail all benefits of being a minority community,” the senior official added.

Officials with the Department of Minority Welfare say that the Centre is unlikely to issue a notification and that the state government’s move will remain incomplete.

“It is true that the notification was issued keeping in mind the elections. A lot of schemes and policies are put in place during the polls. The community be able to avail the benefits only after Parliament and Union Home Ministry approval,” the officer said.

According to the 2011 census, the population of Lingayats was 96,00,475, which is around 16% the total population in Karnataka. "With such a large vote bank all loyal to the BJP, it became a matter of shaking it. Never did the Congress want to swing votes of the entire community. This is also because a section of the Dalit community is siding with the BJP," a Congress leader said.

“This election is not easy to win. The decision to accord a separate minority religion tag for Lingayats, is a mere eyewash to draw Lingayats towards Congress. After Ramakrishna Hegde, BS Yeddyurappa was the only one who was able to gather the support of the entire Lingayat community. Breaking the support-base he has was very important to the Congress,” the source added.

With the issue shaking BJP's voter base, its leaders are now scrambling to ensure that their most loyal vote base is not swayed by the Congress' move.

Speaking to TNM, a close aide of BS Yeddyurappa, said that Amit Shah's tour of various Lingayat and Dalit mutts in the upcoming week was planned solely to appease the pontiffs and ensure that the voter base remains intact.

"Amit Shah will be visiting the Madara Chennaiah Mutt in Chitradurga. The members of the Madiga community hold the pontiff of the mutt in high regard. In November last year, Social Welfare Minister H Anjaneya, who belongs to the Madiga community had a falling out with the pontiff. Shah is planning to shake up Congress' Dalit vote bank. This is to counter the Congress move to divide the Lingayat community," he added.

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