The Lingayat community in Karnataka is politically influential and significant and makes up nearly 17 percent of the state population. Led by former chief minister BS Yedurappa, they have been key supporters of the BJP in the northern parts of Karnataka in recent years.
Leaders of the dominant Lingayat community in Karnataka, who held a huge rally in Belagavi on August 22 to press for recognition of Lingayats as a separate religion, have asked RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat to “not interfere in matters pertaining to the community”. This public declaration came in response to recent reports that Bhagwat, during a visit to Hubbali, had advised Lingayat seers to convince community leaders to drop the demand for status of independent religion. Speaking at the rally, Mathe Mahadevi, a woman seer who is one of the spearheads of the Lingayat movement, said the RSS chief should focus on convincing Prime Minister Narendra Modi regarding their demand. “He should use his influence with Modi to speed up the process of granting us the status of an independent religion,” she said.
“We live in accordance with the principles of a modern democracy and not vedic ideology like Bhagwat does. We need not heed the advice of such leaders,” another seer, Basava Jaya Mrutyunjay Swami, said. He said Lingayat political leaders must not be slaves to the ideology of their parties but should follow the teachings of the 12th century saint Basaveshwara, the founder of the community.
Lingayat leader and member of the state legislative council Basavaraj Horatti said that the Lingayat community must be allowed to handle its own affairs without interference from outside. The seer of the Gadag Tontad mutt, Siddhalinga Swami, said right-wing leaders like Bhagwat were trying to derail their movement. He said the ideals of Lingayatism and Hinduism are at cross purposes since Lingyatism is based on the premise that there can be no discrimination based on class, caste and gender.
In a stunning and radical declaration the seers said, “We were never part of Hinduism. So, there is no question of us walking out of the Hindu fold. We have been a separate religion for 900 years. It is only a matter of time before the government recognizes us as a separate religion,” said former IAS officer S M Jamdar who is a part of the moverment. “Even if Lingayats were to continue to be a part of Hinduism we would be considered Shudras. Hence there is a need to recognise Lingayatism as a separate faith,” Jamdar said.
The Lingayat community in Karnataka who make up nearly 17 percent of the state population have been key supporters of the BJP in the northern parts of Karnataka in recent years. The Congress government in Karnataka has been tacitly supporting the Lingayat demand for the status of an independent religion with several ministers participating in meetings held to further the cause.
Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has stated that he is willing to recommend the status of an independent religion for Lingayats to the central government if the demand from the community is unanimous. BJP’s national president Amit Shah on a recent visit to Karnataka dismissed the Lingayat demand as a political game being played by the Chief Minister Siddaramaiah in the run-up to the 2018 assembly polls in the state.