D K Shivakumar, Minister of Water Resources in the Congress-JD(S) government in Karnataka, has said that the previous Siddaramaiah-led Congress government made a mistake by recommending a separate religion tag and minority status for the Lingayat community and the move cost the Congress in the May 2018 Assembly elections in the state. During a dharma sabha attended by Lingayat seers in the Gadag region, the Congress leader who was the energy minister in the Siddaramaiah government said, “We made a big mistake in the government. No government must interfere in the matter of caste or religion. Our government committed a big crime. Even I was a minister in that government. There was a lot of difference of opinion among the ministers. The decision of the government created a lot of controversy. The election results that we saw this year in the state bear witness to the fact that governments should not interfere in the matter of religion.”
“If we have committed a mistake, please forgive us. We must not practise politics using religion. We must protect religion through politics,” Shivakumar said, adding that he was making the comments from his conscience and heart.
“My personal view is that the people of Karnataka did not accept the decision,” Shivakumar said. The Congress leader was resonating a sentiment that many Congress leaders have expressed in private. The statement is being viewed as Shivakumar’s attempt to win the support of the Lingayat community who make up nearly 17 per cent of Karnataka’s population. The remarks are also seen as an indirect dig at former CM Siddaramaiah in an ongoing power struggle in the state Congress.
In the run-up to the Karnataka polls earlier this year, the Siddaramaiah government had recommended the grant of religious minority status to the Lingayat community on the basis of a report submitted by an expert panel. The Congress was hoping to win the support of a section of Lingayats, who were demanding the separate religion tag, in the Assembly polls.
The decision was expected to have a bearing on the elections since Lingayats account for nearly 17 per cent of the state’s population and form a major support base of the BJP. The BJP had at the time described the decision as part of a “divide and rule” strategy of the Congress and the JD(S) had called the move “divisive”.
In the Assembly polls, the Congress saw its seat tally dwindle from 122 to 78, while the BJP made gains in the Lingayat-dominated seats, increasing its tally from 44 to 104. The Congress forged an alliance with JD(S) and came to power.