How religious minority Status to Lingayats would impact Karnataka elections

The Lingayat community in Karnataka has the potential to influence more than 90 of the 224 seats in the Karnataka assembly and this is the reason the BJP is viewing the granting of the recognition of the community as a separate minority religion as a poll directed move by Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah. Elections in Karnataka is just around the corner.

The decision by the Karnataka government has been sent to the Centre for approval.

How can the Lingayat impact the Polls? Here is a small explanation.

Who are the Lingayats?

The 12th century philosopher Basavanna, who rejected the Hindu religion because of the caste system and rituals associated despite himself being a Brahmin, is believed to be the roots of the Lingayat sect.

The followers of Basavanna opposed the Hindu practices calling for the elimination of the caste system and better treatment of women through a series of poems or vachanas.

Calling for an end to idol worship, the Lingayats pose their faith in the Ishta linga or the formless.

According to historian S Shettar, Basavanna had two sets of followers comprising of people from both the upper and lower castes. Many of the practices that had been rejected by Basavanna were followed by one of the groups which called themselves Veerashaivas and hailed Basavanna to be a latter-day saint belonging to the Shaiva tradition.

The Veerashaiva-Lingayats

The Veerashaivas-Lingayats have been recognized by the government to be a subgroup of the Lingayat community.

Why demand for a separate Lingayat religion?

The separate identity of Lingayats had been enlisted in the 1871 Census of India, according to SM Jamdar, who is heading the sect on the demand and is a retired IAS officer, and added that the Lingayats are simply reinstating that separate identity. However, the 1881 Census later recognized them to be followers of the Hindu religion.

How old is the Demand Veerashaiva-Lingayat religion?

The Census of India was asked to offer a separate code for Lingayat twice earlier by the sect. The demands were made in 2004 and 2013 and wanted the recognition of the Veerashaiva-Lingayat sect. The demand was however rejected.

“Lingayat is the name of the sect founded by Basavanna,” said Jamdar. “The Veerashaivas were a group that came into the fold in the 17th century.”


The latest uproar about Veerashaiva-Lingayats

The two sects of Lingayat were asked to arrive at a consensus by Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah in 2017 which gave rise to the latest round of demands. The Chief Minister had promised that he would consider a consensus agreement. It was in December 2017 that an expert panel was set up to look into the matter after the consensus request came in.

What does the recognition mean for other minority groups?

The existing minority groups would continue to enjoy the existing benefits, according to state minister MB Patil who was in favor of a separate religion tag.

Five percent reservation in Education for Lingayats?

If the Lingayats get the separate religion tag then a five percent reservation in education institutes is accorded to Lingayats because they are classified as a Backward class.

Likely Impact on the Karnataka Assembly Election 2018

90 of the 224 assembly seats in Karnataka are in the Northern region of the state where the Lingayats have a dominant presence. The BJP’s current Chief Ministerial candidate BS Yeddyurappa is among the eight chief ministers of the state, among 22 in total, who belonged to the sect.

Karnataka has 15 percent of the total population are Lingayats

About 15 percent of the total population of Karnataka is accounted for by Lingayats, according to Jamdar, even though exact numbers are unavailable. Some refer to a leaked caste census report which put the number at 9%. But that information is denied by the Karnataka State Government.

Siddaramaiah has his eyes on the sect for making electoral gains and has reached out to the group on multiple previous occasions. That included mandatory positioning of portraits of Basavanna in government offices and giving the name of Akka Mahadevi, a philosopher of the Lingayat tradition, to the Women’s University in the state.