A seven-member panel headed by a retired high court judge has been constituted by the Karnataka State Minorities Commission to study the demand for separate religion status made by the Lingayat community in Karnataka. The commission set up the panel on a reference by the Congress government. Retired HC judge H N Nagamohan Das has been appointed head of the panel, which is tasked with producing a report in one month’s time with respect to the demand for separation of Lingayats from Hinduism and counter views on the issue.
If recognised as a minority religion, the Lingayat community will be able to avail of benefits under Sections 25, 28, 29 and 30 of the Constitution, say community leaders seeking the tag of a separate religion.
The demand for separate religion status by Lingayats, who make up 17 percent of the population of Karnataka, has seen massive rallies in several parts of the state since August. The issue is seen as being an important factor in the forthcoming elections in Karnataka.
Lingayats have been key supporters of the BJP in northern Karnataka in recent years. The Congress government has been tacitly supporting the demand for independent religion status, with several ministers participating in meetings held to further the cause.
Chief Minister Siddaramaiah had earlier stated that he is willing to recommend the status of independent religion for Lingayats to the Centre if the demand is unanimous. The demand, however, has not been unanimous with powerful sections of the community like top mutts and several Lingayat strongmen from the Congress opposing the move to recommend separate religion status.
The BJP has been largely silent on the issue, and party leader Amit Shah has stated that the demand is a political game being played by the Congress. Though BJP leaders have not attended meetings of the Lingayat community demanding separation from the Hindu religion, state BJP president B S Yeddyurappa was a signatory to the demand in 2013 when he had floated his own party, the KJP, after briefly parting with the BJP.
“I had said that if the Lingayats and Veerashaivas unitedly seek separate religion status, then we could recommend it, but they have not been able to unite. There was a demand for the matter to be referred to the commission. We will await the report now,” Siddaramaiah has stated.