There is an eerie similarity to the assassinations of Kannada scholar-writer Prof MM Kalburgi in August 2015 and journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru on Tuesday beyond the way in which both were shot from point blank range in their houses by bike-borne assailants.
Gauri, like Kalburgi, was a staunch proponent of the theory that Lingayat is religion distinct from Hinduism. At the time of Kalburgi’s killing, it was speculated that his research and views on how Lingayat and Veerashaiva, which is nothing but a branch of Hinduism, could have had a link to his murder.
Kalburgi had not endeared himself to Hindutva elements who regarded his research as going against Hinduism. Veerashaivas claim that Veerashaiva and Lingayat are interchangeable terms, and that Lingayat cannot be considered an independent religion in itself.
Gauri Lankesh, a fierce critic of Hindutva politics, had recently written an article in The Wire detailing how Lingayat and Veerashaiva are different.
This controversy is currently gripping Karnataka with Lingayats demanding independent religion status by organising massive rallies in the state and in neighbouring Maharashtra. Lingayat groups snubbed RSS chief Mohan Bhagawat for asking them to drop the demand for a separate religion, asking him not to interfere in the affairs of their community.
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The Lingayat Movement
The Lingayat movement was born in the 12th century and was the outcome of a protest against Vedic rituals and casteist practices of Hinduism. It was led by Basaveshwara and carried forward by other sharanas. But over the centuries, the same Brahminical rituals and practices that the movement abhorred re-appeared, making Lingayat indistinguishable from Veerashaiva.
In a Facebook post recently, Gauri Lankesh had written: “Veerashaiva and Lingayat are different. Veerashaivas are part of the Shaiva tradition of ‘Hindu’ (Brahminical) religion. Lingayat is a religion which protested against the Shaiva, Vaishnava traditions of the Brahminical ‘Hindu’ religion and emerged as a new religion.”
Although no authority on Lingayat like Kalburgi, Gauri had been an outspoken votary of the demand that Lingayat be given the tag of an independent religion like Jainism and Buddhism.
She had been particularly harsh on BS Yeddyurappa who is seen as an unrivalled leader of Lingayats who constitute the single largest community in the state. In the Facebook post, she had written:
Yeddyurappa is anti-Lingayat dharma. He is a stooge of the RSS, which believes in upholding the supremacy of the Brahmanical system.
Investigations so far have not thrown up any clues as to whether Kalburgi’s views on Lingayat-Veerashaiva were linked to his murder. But what bears mentioning is the fact that such linkages were suggested when he was killed.
And before Kalburgi, Linganna Satyampet, the editor of a monthly on religious issues and a follower of Basaveshwara, had been killed and his body thrown into a canal in Gulbarga in 2012.
In the aftermath of Kalburgi’s killing, some right-wing publications had run him down as a scholar who was brought to the fore to create artificial divisions within Hinduism.
Gauri Lankesh’s murder will also cast a shadow on the Assembly elections in Karnataka due in less than a year. The Lingayat-Veerashaiva war is also being fought on the political front, with Siddaramaiah taking the battle into the camp of the BJP by hinting that he may not be averse to recommending an independent religion tag for the community.
(The writer is a senior editor working with a Doha-based daily. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)