The Lingayats in Maharashtra have now demanded a separate religion status, days after the Congress government in Karnataka decided to recommend to the centre to grant religious minority status to the community. The Lingayat community in Maharashtra is likely to put pressure on the Maharashtra government for the same, said reports.
The Lingayat/Veerashaiva community is a politically dominant group in Karnataka. After Karnataka, Maharashtra has the second highest number of Lingayats.
According to report, the Maharashtra government's request to the Centre for granting Lingayat community the status of a minority was turned down in May 2014.
Siddaramaiah's move, which was initially seen as a political masterstroke, has now become a complex issue. Lingayats are considered as the BJP's traditional voter base. This move by the Congress government was aimed at both dividing the BJP's vote bank and appeasing the Lingayat community.
The community has a strong presence in the state, especially in the north. Lingayats constitute 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, said an ET report.
The issue came at the centre stage last year when Chief Minister Siddaramaiah promised to consider the demand. One part of the community demands the minority status for both Veerashaiva and Lingayats considering them the same, while another wants it only for the Lingayats as it considers Veershaivas to be Hindus.
Karnataka State Minorities Commission had formed a seven-member committee, headed by retired high court Judge HN Nagamohan Das on the issue which submitted its report on March 2 stating that Lingayats in Karnataka could be considered as a religious minority.
Lingayats and Veershaivas:
Though many feel that Lingayats and Veerashaivas are one and the same and that the words were interchangeable, they are actually very different. Lingayats are followers of Basavanna, the 12th-century social reformer who staunchly opposed the caste system. Veerashaivism is an order of Shaiva faith, which in turn is one of the two major Vedic faiths - the other one being the Vaishnava faith. Both Shaiva and Vaishnava followers constitute the Sanatana Dharma.
Siddaramaiah government's move to approve separate religion status to Lingayats in Karnataka has hit a major hurdle with All India Veerashaiva Mahasabha president, Shamanur Shivashankarappa, describing it as "height of injustice". Shivashankarappa, who is also a veteran Congress leader, said that the Mahasabha would decide the future course of action on the issue on Friday.