The offer to recommend for a religious status for the Lingayat community in Karnataka was among the pre-poll strategies of the Congress government. The proposal was expected to divide the large Lingayat vote bank traditionally enjoyed by the BJP, in favour of the Congress party.
However, the seven-member expert committee set up by the state government to study the proposal for the religious status has asked for six months to submit the report. The committee has also made it clear that no interim report will be submitted either.
The time frame provided by the committee would mean that the recommendation of the committee would come only after the Assembly elections. This has raised several eyebrows within the Congress party.
‘Scientific Evaluation Not Possible in One Month’
Following the first meeting of the committee, HN Nagamohan Das, former Karnataka High Court judge and head of the committee, said that the report can’t be submitted within a month, as demanded by the state government.
Speaking to reporters after the committee’s first meeting, Das said the committee has a great responsibility and the decision must be made in a scientific manner, after considering all the legal aspects of the recommendation. He insisted that this can’t be done within a month.
Why Is There A Demand For Separate Religion?
In the 12th century, when social reformer Basavanna founded the Lingayat community, they distanced themselves from Hindu Veerashaivas, who followed the vedas and supported the caste system.
The new Lingayat community, instead of temple worship and casteism, were taught to worship Shiva in a direct and personal manner, and give up the ritualistic Brahmin practices. The progressive nature of the new community attracted many followers from across the society.
Following the death of Basavanna, over centuries, the two communities merged again riding on the common thread that both worshiped Shiva. Nuances that made them different were forgotten over time.
Several Lingayat leaders have not come forward to ascertain their non-Hindu identity and demand a separate religion.
‘Six Months Too Long’ – Advocates for Religious Status
SM Jamdar, retired IAS officer and principal coordinator of the movement for religious status, said that there is a consensus among the members of the movement that the time frame of six months is too long. “We have held a meeting on the same and we will be communicating these apprehensions to the concerned authorities,” he said.
During Lingayat Conclave on 11 November, Mathe Mahadevi, a prominent Lingayat leader demanding separate religion, had demanded the government to announce the recommendation by 30 December, before the model code of conduct is in place ahead of the elections.
The Political Implications
The creation of the new Lingayat religion is perceived to be a political strategy by the Congress government to split the Lingayat vote bank, which had traditionally voted for the BJP.
By supporting the demand for a separate religion, the Congress doesn’t expect a landslide of Lingayat votes. Instead they are aiming to get the votes of a small section of backward communities, who gave up Hinduism to be Lingayat. To counter this, the BJP has come up with the proposal to give Lingayats OBC status, instead of a new religion.
“Many expected the decision on the issue will come sooner as it was a government appointed committee. However, Justice Das decided to take his time as the matter is serious and he is right. There have been no meetings between the government and committee since the meeting to discuss the time frame,” said one of the committee members on the condition of anonymity.
Not A Poll Strategy: State Congress President
Although the six months’ time frame given by the committee would spoil this strategy, there has been no reaction from the Congress party. Talking to The Quint, G Parameshwara, the president of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC), said that the demand to give religious status to the Lingayat community was not made by the government or the Congress party. “It is the community which approached us with the request. But giving a memorandum is not enough, the government has to follow the rules that are in place. So, the matter has been referred to a committee, let them do their job,” he said.