The state cabinet of Karnataka on March 19, 2018 decided to recognise Lingayats as a ‘religious minority’ and include the Veerashaivas who follow Basavanna as a group within the community, approving recommendations of the HN Nagamohan Das Committee.
Now the proposal will be sent to the Union Government for the final approval.
• The development is significant, especially with the state’s assembly polls around the corner.
• By taking the decision, the Congress-led Karnataka Government has put the BJP-led Centre in a difficult situation.
• The BJP had opposed the move on the grounds that it would split society further and introduce more cleavages in the social-religious fabric.
• Lingayats have traditionally supported BJP, so this move is seen by most as a bid by Congress to split BJP’s Lingayat vote base.
Who are the Lingayats?
• Lingayats, a distinct Shaivite religious tradition, are followers of the 12th-century poet-philosopher-social reformer Basaveshwara who rebelled against established Hindu tradition by defying the caste system and Vedic rituals.
• The people of the community are strict monotheists, they worship only one God, namely, Linga (Shiva) in the form of ishtalinga.
• They consider themselves different from Veerashaivas, also a Shaivite religious tradition, who adhere to the Vedas and support the caste system, while the Veerashaivas think the community was an ancient religion established by Shiva and Basavanna was one of its saints.
Why is the move significant for upcoming Karnataka Polls?
• The Lingayats are considered politically powerful.
• Though the community constitutes 17% of the total population in Karnataka, they are dominant in close to 100 of the 224 assembly seats, mostly in North Karnataka.
• There have been nine chief ministers from the community.
• Though the movement for a separate religious tag for the Lingayats was started as far back as 1942, it was resurrected in 2017 by Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s promise to look into the demand for a separate religion status for Lingayats and Veerashaivas.
• In December 2017, a seven-member expert committee- HN Nagamohan Das Committee - was formed by the Karnataka government to study five separate demands, three of which were for a separate minority religion status for Lingayats.
• While one representation demanded minority status for both Veerashaiva and Lingayats considering them the same, another demanded it only for the Lingayats as it considers Veershaivas to be Hindus.
• The committee submitted its report on March 2, 2018 recommending ‘Religious Minority’ status for the Lingayat community.
• It concluded that there is enough evidence to differentiate Lingayat religion from Hindu religion and also added that Veerashaivas - another sect looking to get religious minority status, too can be part of the larger umbrella of ‘Lingayat religion’.