Karnataka government gives separate religion tag for Lingayats

Karnataka government gives separate religion tag for Lingayats

After a marathon cabinet meeting and informal discussion with the powerful Lingayat seers, the state government declared that it would send the recommendation to the Centre.

The Karnataka Cabinet on Monday made a decision to recommend to the Centre to declare Lingayats and Veerashiva-lingayats who follow the philosophy of social reformer Basaveshwara as a religious minority.

The Siddaramaiah government will now seek the Centre's permission to notify the same under Section 2 (c) of the Central Minority Commission Act.

The cabinet's decision comes at a time when the Congress is leaving little to chance to check the BJP's run in assembly elections due later this year.

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Asked if the Veerashaiva Lingayats - a related community also called Veerashaivas - were also Lingayats, state mining minister Vinay Kulkarni said only those who accept the "teachings of Basavanna can be considered a Lingayat". They also believe that they'll be reunited with Lord Shiva after death. The community makes up 17% of the state's population. The minority tag to a numerically-strong and influential Lingayat and Veerashaiva Lingayat community is expected to impact the poll outcome, especially in the Mumbai-Karnataka region and in parts of Hyderabad-Karnataka.

Slamming the decision, Opposition BJP leader in the Assembly Jagadish Shettar said the Siddaramaiah government was dividing the society for the sake of politics, keeping the election in mind and accused it of "igniting fire". There were differences within the Siddaramaiah's Cabinet too as Ministers on both sides of the divide pitched for their respective causes. "People will teach them a lesson", he added. The Congress move is a clear sign that the party is going all out to undercut Lingayat strongman Yeddyuarrpa's popularity and to stop Hindu consolidation.

The committee, headed by retired high court judge H.N. Nagamohan Das, had submitted its report on March 2 recommending that the Shaivite community, founded by the philosopher-saint Basavanna, be granted the status of a religious minority. "The cabinet chose 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)".

A former chairperson of the state Backward Classes Commission said that was not likely to change, and, hence, it would mean they would continue to get 5% reservation.

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