Karnataka Govt Approves Separate Religion Status For Lingayats
Just months before the Karnataka Assembly election, the Siddaramaiah-led government on Monday, 19 March accepted the recommendation of Nagamohan Das Committee for a separate religion status for members of the Lingayat community.
The committee, formed by the state government in December 2017 to decide on the matter, had noted that “Lingayats may be considered as religious minority."
The state government’s decision is a crucial political development ahead of the 2018 state assembly polls in Karnataka.
Appeasing Lingayats For ‘Electoral Gains’?
Lingayats are traditionally considered to be a major components of the BJP’s vote bank across the state, especially in north Karnataka bordering Maharashtra. Political analysts and the Opposition had accused the Congress of playing up the issue for electoral gains, according to The News Minute.
Who Are Lingayats?
An outcome of rebellion against Vedic rituals and casteist practices in the Hindu religion, the Lingayat sect was formed by 12th century social reformer Basavanna. His followers were taught to worship Shiva, in direct and personal manner, without any Brahminic practices. The progressive nature of the new sect attracted followers from across castes and communities.
Over the centuries, following Basavanna’s death, the Brahminic practices opposed by him found its way to the religion, leading to the merger of Lingayats and Veerashaivas. The word Lingayat was since used to represent both communities.
Lingayats Vs Veerashaivas
However, the Karnataka cabinet is a divided house. Monday’s decision was taken after a 8 March meeting on the issue was deferred following a heated disagreement between Lingayat and Veerashaiva ministers in the cabinet. Water Resources Minister MB Patil and Higher Education Minister Basavaraj Rayareddi – both Lingayats – had argued in favour of going ahead with the committee report.
However, they were strongly opposed by Municipal Administration Minister Eshwar Khandre and Horticulture Minister SS Mallikarjun. Mallikarjun is the son of All India Veerashaiva Mahasabha President Shamanur Shivashankarappa while Khandre has previously said that Veerashaivas and Lingayats should not be divided.
Chief Minister Siddaramaiah intervened as the arguments escalated – and decided to defer the matter.
Former IAS officer SM Jamdaar, who is spearheading the Lingayat movement for a separate religion tag, challenged the Veerashaiva faction to produce historical documents.
The movement for a separate religion tag, which was started as far back as 1942, was resurrected in 2017 by 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.
In January 2018, the committee recommended “religious minority tag” for Lingayats. It concluded that there is enough evidence to differentiate Lingayat religion from Hindu religion, and added that Veerashaivas – another sect looking to get religious minority status – too can be part of the larger umbrella of ‘Lingayat religion’, as per a report by The Hindu.
A court case related to the issue in the Karnataka High Court is still being heard. The court had earlier put a rider on the process initiated by the Karnataka government on the formation of the panel and its report – and said that further steps will be subject to the court’s final decision.
(With TNM and ANI inputs)
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