Rising demand for religion tag for Veerashaiva-Lingayats has BJP worried

Rising demand for 'religion' tag for Veerashaiva-Lingayats has BJP worried

The three-day All India Veerashaiva-Lingayat convention is likely to raise the demand for religious status for the community as well as for its inclusion in the OBC list of the Union government

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Ahead of the 2023 Karnataka Assembly elections, the long-pending demand for a separate religion tag for Veerashaiva-Lingayats has been raised again. With Congress leaders joining the chorus, the BJP has begun to feel the heat.

The BJP is already in a tight spot over a demand by members of the Panchamasali (a Lingayat subsect) community to include them under the 2A reservation category. Now, the Lingayat Mahasabha’s renewed demand for a separate religion tag for Veerashaiva-Lingayats has created political turmoil in a section of the BJP.

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The Veerashaiva-Lingayat Mahasabha is holding a convention in Davanagere from December 24. The three-day programme is being led by the Mahasabha’s national president Shamanuru Shivashankarappa and national general secretary Eshwar Khandre. Notably, both are from the  Congress. While Shamanuru is a former minister, Khandre is the working president of Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC).

‘A long way to go’

When Siddaramaiah was the Chief Minister, the Congress sought to get a  separate religion tag for the Lingayats, but it left out the word ‘Veerashaiva’. 

The BJP alleged that the Congress was trying to divide Lingayats. The Siddaramaiah government’s move to separate Lingayats from Veerashaivas and to get separate religion status only for the Lingayats was politically disastrous, which became evident during the 2018 Assembly elections.  The Lingayats voted against the Congress, and the BJP won the polls.

Also read: Rocked by sex scandals at mathas, Lingayats seek to rein in their seers

However, this time, Congress has gone beyond getting a religion tag for Lingayats alone. It is supporting the demand for a separate religion tag for the Veerashaiva-Lingayats, proposed by the Veerashaiva Lingayat Mahasabha.

Interestingly, in 2013, then Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa signed a memorandum that was sent to then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for a “separate code/number/column/ abbreviation to record the Veerashaiva-Lingayat religion.” However, it is believed that the move was halted after the Centre sought clarification from the state.

The BJP argues that the Lingayat-Veerashaiva community forms a single entity. It says that the Siddaramaiah government’s decision was fraudulent and an ill-conceived design launched ahead of the assembly elections in April-May 2018. 

But this time, the move by the Mahasabha, led by Shamanuru and Khandre of the Congress, has forced the BJP think tank to take a stand. The party is worried that it is yet to find a Lingayat leader of Yediyurappa’s stature and also that it is far from having convinced Panchamasalis.

Twin demand

Meanwhile, a bhoomi puja was performed on Sunday for the stage construction of the Veerashaiva-Lingayat Mahasabha session at the MBA College premises in Davanagere, ahead of the three-day convention. Shamanuru told the media that Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai will attend the convention on the first day. Yediyurappa will be joining in on the last day, possibly in the hope that the Veerashaiva-Lingayat subsect members would forget their differences and unite.

Watch: With elections closing in, can BJP woo back Lingayats in Karnataka?

However, it is being speculated that the convention will demand religion status for Veerashaiva-Lingayat and for its inclusion in the OBC list of the Union government. It is believed that the demand for separate religion will be raised in front of Bommai and Yediyurappa so that it gains momentum and helps the Lingayat leaders of the Congress indirectly.

Khandre told the media that the Veerashaiva-Lingayats are called Hindus but they have their own aesthetic and ethical values and there has been a demand for many years to recognise their faith as a separate religion. “Also, we should be included in the OBC (3A) category as there are several people in the community who did not receive proper education and have poor economic status,” he said.

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He further said reservation should be given as recommended by the Chinnappa Reddy Commission to all the sub-tribes of the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community. The state government should form a committee and get a report from it and give reservations according to the population, he added. 

Many believe that Congress will use it as a tool during the election campaign to overshadow any attack from the BJP.

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