Who are Lingayats and how will they impact Karnataka assembly elections?

WION Web Team
New Delhi, Delhi, India Published: Mar 20, 2018, 11:17 AM(IST)

Lingayat community Seers at Vidhana Soudha in Bengaluru. Photograph:( PTI )

The Chief Minister Siddaramaiah-led Karnataka Government on Monday accepted the suggestions of Nagamohan Das committee to form a separate religion status of the Lingayat community.

The decision came just months before the state assembly elections. Now the proposal will be sent to the Centre for the final approval. 

A seven-member committee headed by Nagamohan Das retired high court Judge H N Nagamohan Das submitted its report on March 2, 2018, stating that "Lingayats in Karnataka may be considered as a religious minority."

Who are Lingayats?

The Lingayats also known as the Veerashaiva community owes loyalty to the social reform movement of the 12th century initiated by Basaveshwara, a saint, has a considerable population in the northern part of the Karnataka. They rebelled against established Hindu traditions by defying the caste system and vedic rituals.

In their bid for a separate religion status, Lingayats were eager to dissociate themselves from Veerashaivas, a Shaivite religious tradition, whose followers adhere to the vedas. Lingayats, on the contrary, do not believe in rituals or vedas.

At the core of their ideology and belief systems, the Lingayats reject the ancient Hindu texts and vedas, the caste system and the belief in karma and reincarnation. In the Lingayat tradition, worship revolves bhakti or devotion and is centred on god Shiva. 

Basavanna/Basaveshwara

The revolution that Basavanna led came years after the Buddha. It was Basavanna and his contemporary Sharanas who launched a very strong spiritual, social and religious rebellion against Brahminical hegemony. Basavanna had declared that “work is worship”. He gave women equal status in his movement through the vachanas (verses).

There are two sets of followers of Basavanna, who attracted people from both upper and lower castes. One group of his followers, called Veerashaivas, who consider Basavanna to be a later-day saint belonging to the Shaiva tradition, continued to follow many of the practices he had rejected, said historian S Shettar.

Veerashaivas

Veerashaivas are a sub-sect of Lingayats and ardent followers of Lord Shiva. They preceded Basavanna, the founder of Lingayatism and was spread by his followers among the Sharanas.

How did it all begin?

Lingayats have been demanding status of a separate religion for a long time. The issue came at the centrestage 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. 

Reports quoted SM Jamdaar, who spearheaded the Lingayat movement as saying that this demand is not new and has been a long-standing issue which goes back to 1942 which surfaced again in 2017 after Siddaramaiah to look into the issue. 

Jamdaar says that for over 700 years, Lingayats were a separate religion and the current agitation is simply seeking to restore the community to its former status.

Impact on elections

The Lingayats constitute 17% of Karnataka's population and weild strong influence in 110 constituencies, they were orignally supporters of the Congress party - 15% of the Lingayat electorate is estimated to have voted for the Congress in 2013. Eight of the state’s 22 chief ministers belonged to this sect, including the BJP’s current chief ministerial candidate BS Yeddyurappa.

Many prominent personalities, including journalist Gauri Lankesh and Kannada scholar MM Kalburgi, who were both shot dead, were Lingayats.

Siddaramaiah hopes for electoral gains fom this decision and has made many overtures to it, including making it mandatory to have portraits of Basavanna in government offices and naming the women’s university in the state after Akka Mahadevi, a philosopher of the Lingayat tradition.

 

Rahul visited the Gavisiddeswara matha of the Lingayat community in Koppal, Karnataka. (PTI)

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The latest move appears to be a bid by Congress to split BJP’s Lingayat vote base. The Congress hopes the move will get them support from the Lingayat community.

The BJP has shown hesitation to the decision. According to the party declaring Lingayats as a religious minority would divaricate the society and introduce more loopholes in the socio-economic front.

BJP leaders are of the view that the Siddaramaiah government's decision may not translate into votes for the Congress. Though the decision may have pleased the Lingayats, however its benefits will take time to reach the community, according to the BJP.

The BJP has accused the Karnataka CM of "playing with fire" for vote bank politics.

Meanwhile, the Lingayat ministers in the state government have planned a huge rally in Bengaluru where they plan to felicitate chief minister Siddaramaiah for according the community religious minority status.

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