On 24 December, the Akhila Bharatiya Veershaiva Lingayat Mahasabha (ABVLM) – an umbrella organisation of different Lingayat sects in Karnataka – is expected to hold a massive convention in Davanagere. The Mahasabha will demand Other Backward Class (OBC) status for all the 112 Lingayat sub-castes at the convention.
However, there is another demand of the Lingayats, which they have revived yet again, that will pose a major challenge to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the state.
The Lingayats still want minority status, two prominent organisations told The Quint. This comes with a serious implication – for the Lingayats to be considered a separate minority religion, the caste group will have to severe their ties with Hinduism and Hindu religious practices.
Senior Lingayat leaders say they are prepared to see this through.
Who Wants Minority Status?
The demand for minority status was raised earlier and supported by the Congress government under Siddaramaiah in 2018.
A Lingayat leader explained where the community now stands:
"We still have the demand for minority status. We had demanded it earlier and we are sticking to the same stand. There is no need to raise it again (at the convention), as a demand, as it is (already) under consideration."TS Sachidananda Murthy, Vice President of ABVLM
Meanwhile, another Lingayat organisation, Jathika Lingayat Mahasabha (JLM), has decided to launch an agitation to demand minority status. This organisation, however, will not be part of the Lingayat convention, as they do not support ABVLM's demand for OBC status.
"We are different from the Hindus and should be considered a minority religion. This demand was once approved in Karnataka, but we have decided to raise it again."GB Patil, General Secretary of JLM
In 2018, Justice HN Nagamohan Das Commission had recommended minority status for Lingayats in Karnataka, even as seers of most Lingayat Mutts raised the same demand.
The Lingayats are followers of Basavanna, a 12th century philosopher and social reformer.
However, thus far, the BJP has refrained from supporting this demand, even though Lingayats have been the party's traditional voters.
Why BJP is Unlikely To Support Demand for Minority Status
The BJP, which was an Opposition party in 2018, failed to support the demand back then. It was felt that supporting minority status for the Lingayats would have forced the party to deal with the "ire of its Hindu vote base."
"If BS Yediyurappa, a noted Lingayat leader, had raised the demand, it would have shown that the BJP was in our support. But he shied away from supporting it," GB Patil told The Quint.
The Karnataka Assembly's recommendation was sent to the Centre's Ministry of Minority Welfare in 2018, as granting minority status needed the Union government's nod. The Centre, however, rejected it. The matter then reached the Karnataka High Court.
The BJP government, responded to a petition filed in the HC stating the Lingayats were considered Hindus since the first census of 1871. Due to this longstanding classification, they cannot be reclassified as Hindus, the Centre claimed.
But a prominent Lingayat seer, who spoke to The Quint on the condition of anonymity. fearing backlash from the BJP, claims that the BJP rejected the demand because the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was against this classification. He added,
"The RSS and its affiliated organisations rejected the demand in toto because they calculated that warding minority status to the Lingayats will weaken the BJP's hold on the community."A Lingayat Seer
The BJP has several prominent Lingayat leaders who have been lobbying for the community. Even the current Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai is a Lingayat.
However, now that the Lingayats have clarified that they will not give up the demand for minority status, will the BJP address the issue?
It is unlikely because the other demand of the Lingayats – classification under OBC list of the Centre – that itself would stand in the way of the minority status.
Which Is More Important for the Lingayats – OBC List or Minority Status?
When The Quint asked the two prominent Lingayat organisations, it became apparent that the community is divided on which demand should be given prominence.
While the Akhila Bharatiya Veerashaiva Lingayat Mahasabha (ABVLM) claimed that they would foreground the demand for OBC status, the Jathika Lingayat Mahasabha (JLM) held that they would want minority status over the OBC classification.
According to the Veerashaiva Lingayat Mahasabha, OBC status would help them get reservation as many sects among Lingayats come from historically marginalised communities and are poor.
"This demand has the support of all seers of different mutts," said Sachidananda Murthy.
The Jathika Lingayat Mahasabha agreed. "Anyone, even those from marginalised castes, were included under the Lingayat fold because Basavanna believed in social reform. The Lingayats do not believe in the Varna (caste) system," GB Patil said.
However, it is to be noted that Lingayats are now one of the most powerful communities in Karnataka, with their mutts having reserve funds running into crores of rupees. The mutts also run educational institutions and hospitals.
The Jathika Mahasabha also said that the Lingayats have already transcended caste and hence need not fight for OBC status.
Besides, if the Lingayats are classified as a minority religion, reclassification under the OBC list could prove to be difficult. Mostly historically marginalised castes among the Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists, are classified as OBCs in the Central list.
"The question is whether we follow Basavanna or not. If we follow Basavanna, we are not Hindus. If we want OBC status, we become Hindus."GB Patil
With the division among Lingayats reaching a crescendo before the Assembly elections scheduled for 2023, the BJP, Congress and JD(S) are expected to appeal to all sects.
In the Veerashaiva convention, representatives of all parties are expected to participate.
"We will support any party which will give us minority status. And the support of the Lingayats will matter as we form 17 percent of the population," GB Patil said.
Meanwhile, Veerashaiva Lingayat leader Sachidananda Murthy too pledged support for any party that would grant OBC status to Lingayats. "We have approached all the parties and we are hopeful," Murthy said.
Meaning, the BJP will have to discuss the Lingayat question soon, especially since the Congress had once supported the demand for the community's minority status.