With assembly elections around the corner, the Congress government in Karnataka on Monday decided to recommend to the Centre to grant religious minority status to the Lingayat community on the basis of a report submitted by a panel of experts. The decision was taken after a lengthy Cabinet meeting, chaired by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, and will cover two factions of the community — Lingayats and Veerashaiva Lingayats — that follows the teachings of the 12th century saint Basavanna.
The decision is expected to have a major bearing on the upcoming elections since Lingayats account for nearly 17 per cent of the state’s population and form a major support base of the BJP. The demand for the tag of a separate religion and minority status has been a long pending demand of the Lingayat community. The state government was also under pressure from leaders of the Veerashaiva Lingayats who had warned against according minority status to Lingayats alone.
On Monday, quoting from the Cabinet decision, Law Minister T B Jayachandra said: “After due deliberations and some discussion on concerns of various sections of society, the Cabinet has decided to accept the recommendations of the state minority commission which… has recommended to consider grant of recognition as religious minority to the Lingayat and Veerashaiva Lingayat believers of Basava Tattva under section 2(d) of the Karnataka Minorities Act.” Jayachandra said that the Cabinet “also decided to forward the same to the central government for notifying under section 2(d) of the Central Minority Commission Act”.
According to the law minister, the Cabinet decision was based on a report submitted on March 2 by an expert committee headed by by retired Karnataka High Court judge, Justice H N Nagamohan Das. The panel’s recommendation was originally slated to be taken up by the Cabinet on March 14 but the meeting was cancelled after differences cropped up between ministers from the Lingayat and Veerashaiva factions.
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While a group of Lingayat ministers has been at the forefront of the movement to seek a separate religion tag, another group from the Veerashaiva faction are opposed to granting that status to Lingayats alone. If recognised as a minority religion, the Lingayats will be able to avail benefits under sections 25, 28, 29 and 30 of the Constitution, say community leaders. The seven-member panel of experts was constituted by the Karnataka State Minorities Commission. In its report, the panel said, “Lingayats in Karnataka may be considered a religious minority. Veerashaivas, who consider Basavanna dharma guru, believe in vachanas as sacred text and wear Ishta Linga may be considered as Lingayats”.
Last week, a group of Veerashaiva leaders met Siddaramaiah and expressed resentment over the proposed move to recommend separation of Lingayats alone from the Hindu category. “If you do not adhere to our request, we will launch an indefinite agitation and a decision has been taken through community leaders, seers, writers and lawyers. Do not consider this as a threat but a request from the community to protect its interests,’’ the leaders said in a memorandum to the state government. “If the state government intends to ensure the welfare of the community, it should then declare the Veerashaiva Lingayats as a religion,’’ the memorandum stated.
The Karnataka chief minister has in the past stated that he is willing to recommend the status of an independent religion for Lingayats if the demand is unanimous. The BJP has accused the Congress of attempting to divide the community for electoral gains, with BJP president Amit Shah calling the demand for a separate religion status a political game being played by the Congress.