The Congress government in Karnataka on Monday played a political gamble close to the state assembly polls by clearing the religious minority status for Lingayat community.
"Based on the recommendations of Karnataka State Minorities Commission, the state cabinet has unanimously decided to grant status of religious minority to Lingayats and Veerashaiva Lingayats (believers of 12th century social reformer Basava's ideologies)," state Law Minister TB Jayachandra told media quoting the recommendation of a seven-member panel headed by Justice Nagamohan Das (Retd).
The state cabinet, chaired by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, has decided to forward the Commission's recommendations to the Central government for approval and notification under the National Commission for Minorities Act, the Minister said. The cabinet is set to ratify an official notification to this effect at its next meeting, possibly next week.
The Lingayats make for 17 per cent of the population in the state and can influence the outcome in nearly 100 seats in the 224-member assembly. The move is expected to woo traditionally BJP loyalist Lingayat voters to the Congress camp.
While Lingayats — who trace their origin to 12th-century social reformer Basavanna — have been demanding recognition as a separate religion and not be identified as Hindus, Veerashaivas had opposed it on the ground that Veerashaivas and Lingayats are one and the same. Some had threatened to campaign against Congress in the polls.
To pacify this section, the cabinet decided to include Veerashaiva-Lingayats as a group within the Lingayat community. “The cabinet decided to grant minority status to Veerashaivas, who consider Basavanna dharma guru (religious head), believe in vachanas (verses) as sacred text and wear Ishta Linga (symbolic representation of a formless god). They will also be considered Lingayats,” law minister said.
While both communities worship Shiva, Veerashaivas follow the Vedas and the caste system, which was rejected by Basava. In accepting the Lingayat demand, the government made it clear the Veerashaivas are a sub-sect of Lingayats.