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Siddaramaiah asks Centre to recognise Lingayats, Veerashaivas as separate religious minorities in Karnataka

Bengaluru: Stepping up pressure ahead of the 12 May Assembly polls, the Congress government in Karnataka has written to the Centre recommending it to consider representations of the Lingayat and Veerashaiva community to recognise them as a religious minority.

The letter comes days after the state cabinet decided to recommend to the Centre grant of religious minority status to Lingayats and Veerashaiva Lingayats.

It was seen by the BJP and other political opponents as a move by the Siddaramaiah government to cut into the vote bank of BJP, which banks significantly on their support.

The BJP has seen the government decision as an attempt to divide Hindus.

BJP president Amit Shah was on a two-day visit to Karnataka from Monday and met several Lingayat pontiffs.

File image of Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah. PTI

In a letter to the Secretary of Ministry of Minority Affairs, Secretary to Karnataka government, Minority Welfare Department, has sought recognition of Lingayats and Veerashaivas who follow 12th century social reformer Basavanna's philosophy and teachings as a religious minority Under Section 2(c) of National Commission of Minorities Act, 1992.

"..the State Government recommends that the Government of India may consider representations of the Lingayat community and Veerashaiva community who believes in Basavanna's teachings and recognise them as a religious minority," the letter listing the chronology of events said.

"Upon such recognition may take necessary action to notify the Lingayat and Veerashaiva Lingayats who believe in Basavanna's philosophy, Basavanna's vachanas and teachings as a religious minority under Section 2(c) of the National Commission of Minorities Act,1992," it further said.

The letter dated 23 March was released to the media on Wednesday.

The state cabinet on 19 March had decided to recommend to the Centre to grant religious minority tag to the dominant Lingayat and Veerashaiva Lingayat community, based on the recommendation of the Karnataka State Minority Commission.

As per the decision of the cabinet, the state government had recently issued a notification under Section 2(d) of the Karnataka State Minorities Act,1994, notifying Lingayats and Veerashaiva Lingayats as religious minority.

The notification had a rider that it would come into effect from the date the central government notifies the communities as a minority.

The demand for a separate religion tag to Veerashaiva/Lingayat faiths has surfaced from the numerically strong and politically-influential community, amid resentment from within over projecting the two communities as the same.

One section led by Akhila Bharata Veerashaiva Mahasabha has demanded separate religion status, asserting that Veerashaiva and Lingayats are the same.

The other group wants it only for Lingayats as they believe that Veerashaivas are one among the seven sects of Shaivas, which is part of Hinduism.

Of late, some Lingayats have also stated that they were open to having the Veerashaivas under their umbrella, but the Lingayat nomenclature was non-negotiable.

The cabinet decision has been vehemently opposed by the Veerashaivas who have accused the Siddaramaiah government of dividing the community.

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