Aside from issues like demonetisation, introduction of Goods and Services Tax, increasing farmer suicides, unemployment, price hike — that have weakened the nationwide Modi wave, the Lingayat community’s demand for a separate religion and minority status on the national level are now being considered as an additional and unavoidable threat for the ruling party both in Maharashtra and Centre.
Lingayat community’s ‘long pending demand’ of ‘constitutional recognition to Lingayat religion’ is actively playing its part in Karnataka that will go for election in a month’s time. Simultaneously, the unfolded Lingayat wave is all set to mark its steps in the upcoming Maharashtra Assembly and Lok Sabha polls.
After achieving the Siddaramaiah government’s approval the independent minority religion status, renowned spiritual head of South Indian Lingayat community Mathe Mahadevi appealed to the community to support CM Siddaramaiah and the Congress in the upcoming assembly election. Following that, 30 senior Lingayat religious leaders on Saturday endorsed Siddaramaiah.
Congress spokesperson Neela Limaye expressed, “Congress is not supporting the Lingayats for vote banks as we have raised this issue many times before. The decision of the Karnataka government is as per the norms of the Constitution.”
Elections for the 224-member Karnataka Assembly will take place on May 12, and results will be announced on May 15. Supporting Lingayat’s demands not only helped Congress take hold of a crucial vote bank right before the election, but it has also weakened the morale of BJP’s Chief Ministerial candidate B S Yeddyurappa.
In a similar way, to put pressure on ruling BJP-Sena government in Maharashtra, the All India Lingayat Co-ordination Committee, along with more than 40 organisations and the support from Maratha Seva Sangh, organised a ‘Mahamorcha’ in Aurangabad on Sunday. Led by 103-year-old Shivling Shivacharya Maharaj, the rally had faces like Dr Mate Mahadevi from Karnataka, many spiritual gurus, and leaders from the nationwide Lingayat community. The rally that led up to the Divisional Commissioner’s Office, was joined by thousands of social workers and supported by Nandu Ghodale, Mayor (Shiv Sena) of Aurangabad Municipal Corporation and MLA Subhash Zambad (Congress).
Manohar Dhonde, founder president of the Shiva Sanghatana said, “We oppose the idea of separate Lingayat religion. The Congress government had rejected the separate religion demand four times previously — in 1969, 1990, 2008 and 2013. The community should focus on the pending issues first as it is not possible to get a separate religion. Aurangabad’s Lingayat rally is politically sponsored.”
The Lingayat movement for separate religion status has now become one of the deciding factors in the upcoming elections. Under the Karnataka Minorities Commission Act, the confirmation to bring Lingayats and Veerashaivas under a religion proved to be a subtle move by Siddaramaiah. Now, the benefits of reservation under the new status will be available only after the Centre accepts the recommendation and notifies it.
Akhil Bhartiya Maratha Mahasangha member V V Pramod exclaimed, “Yes! We have supported the Lingayat Morcha. Maratha Mahasangha is always with the people and we will always support the Lingayat community.”
With this masterstroke, while Congress has got the community support, on the contrary, BJP’s decision to support it or not will be a crucial landmark in the Indian politics. Modi-led BJP has more to perform to gain Lingayat’s trust than attacking Siddaramaiah government’s decision as an effort to divide Hindus. Making it indeed difficult for the Central government, BJP MLA Atul Save, Bhagwat Karad, former Mayor Bapu Ghadamode and Basavraj Mangrule were seen attending the Morcha.
BJP spokesperson Shirish Boralkar stated, “We respect the Lingayat community but our party doesn’t believe in casteism politics for votes. Congress is conspiring in Karnataka and other states to split the Hindus.”
BJP MLA Atul Save said, “Neither had I participated nor supported the Lingayat Morcha! As an MLA from Aurangabad, I approached the Morcha to know their demands and requirements. I communicated with the committee members and I will convey their messages to the Chief Minister. So far, BJP has not decided any official stand on Sunday’s rally.”
For both competing political parties — BJP and Congress, Hindutva seems to have become a tempting weapon. While, North Karnataka is an electorally significant region dominated by the Lingayat community, as around four crore Lingayats stay in Maharashtra. Realising the strength of the region, Congress will explicitly be resistant to let it go easy for the BJP in the upcoming Assembly and Lok Sabha elections. BJP can call it an ‘election gimmick’ or can accuse Congress of dividing the society! However, to get the grip again, BJP just can’t afford to play the waiting game. If the party fails to come up with its approach to gain back Lingayat’s trust, the weakening Modi wave will get more drained in coming months.