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Why Siddramaiah's Lingayat 'appeasement' move may backfire

By Vikas

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.

Karnataka CM Siddarmaiah with Lingayat representrative

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, but it is not panning out as expected by Siddaramaiah.

"We thought that the government had decided to recommend a minority tag for the Veerashaiva-Lingayat combine, but now I realise the plea is one-sided and will do injustice to Veerashaivas. We will not accept the extension of the special tag to those among them, who follow only the principles of Basava. We realised that the state Cabinet had drawn up the proposal very cleverly," a Deccan Chronicle report quoted Shivashankarappa as saying.

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.

Another hurdle is that Schedule Castes of the Veerashaiva/Lingayat sects may lose reservation benefits if the separate religion proposal is accepted by the Centre.

[SCs of Veerashaiva/Lingayats to lose reservation benefits if separate religion tag accepted]

"In November 2013, the then Manmohan Singh government had decided that giving separate religion tag will split the society further and affect SCs professing Veerashaiva/Lingayat Dharma," Union Minister, Arjun Ram Meghwal said.

The fact that the UPA government had then opposed the separate religion status for Lingyats, but now Congress vehemently backing it is also not going to help Siddaramaiah. BJP is using this to attack the Congress over the issue.

Meghwal alleged that "the Karnataka government is playing politics. The only reasons they are pushing for separate religion status is to stop Lingayat BJP leader B S Yeddyurappa from becoming chief minister."

[Separate religion status for Lingayats: Why Yeddyurappa's stony silence speaks a lot?]

Union Minister Ananth Kumar also lashed out at the Siddaramaiah government and said Congress' "vote bank politics" will "boomerang".

Karnataka Assembly Election dates
Date of notification April 17
Last date to file nominations April 24
Last date to withdraw nominations April 27
Date of polling May 12
Date of counting May 15

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