Just two months ahead of the Assembly poll, the Congress-ruled Karnataka came up on Monday, March 19, with its best counterattack against the BJP so far. The state cabinet led by chief minister Siddaramaiah approved the recommendation of the Justice Nagamohan Das-headed expert committee to accord the status of minorities to “Lingayat and Veerashaiva Lingayat” believers of Basava Tattva under Section 2(d) of the Karnataka Minorities Act.
Law minister TB Jayachandra said that this recommendation would now be forwarded to the Union government so that it can be notified under Central Minority Commission Act.
Caste and Constitution
What would such a decree actually mean? It would mean that Lingayats and Veerashaiva Lingayats, who are one of Karnataka’s leading communities, will have special privileges under Section 25, 28, 29 and 30 of the Constitution.
These include the right to profess and propagate their religion, access to special religious instruction and worship and, perhaps most importantly, the freedom to run and manage minority educational institutions. That latter is sure to benefit several Lingayat educational trusts, which exist all over the state, but especially flourish in north Karnataka.
Immediately, however, there will be no additional reservation benefits since Lingayats already enjoy 15 per cent reservation under the categories 2A and 3B of the Other Backward Classes in Karnataka. Incidentally, some of these inclusions were granted in 2009 during the BJP government led by BS Yeddyurappa, himself a Lingayat.
Lingayats, who constitute 14 per cent, along with Vokkaligas (or Gowdas) who make up 11 per cent, are the two dominant Hindu communities in the state. Both have been accorded OBC status, which allows them to claim reservation benefits. Often, they don’t occupy the same space in the state, so they are not directly at loggerheads.
But they do compete for power at every level, whether it comes to the number of MLA/MP tickets they get or even who claims the chief ministership of the state. Both have many sub-castes and groupings, some 92 among the Lingayats and 116 among the Vokkaligas. Siddaramaiah himself is a Kuruba Gowda, a shepherding community, akin to the Yadavas and Ahirs in the North, which also has OBC status and accounts for 7 per cent of the population.
Why are these numbers important, even surprising? That is because they have been leaked from the state’s firstever caste census, another of Siddharamaiah’s anti-BJP missiles, which seems to have backfired. The findings, disclosed in various media, but not yet officially released, show that both Lingayats and Vokkaligas, who have dominated the state’s politics for years, have fewer numbers than previously estimated.
In fact, the two largest communities in the state are Schedule Castes (19.5 per cent) and Muslims (16 per cent). But the Congress is not sure what the impact of these numbers will have on their poll prospects, so they have kept them in “safe custody”.
Lingayats have, by and large, voted for the BJP so by appeasing them with the minority status, Siddaramaiah seems to have undermined the latter’s vote base. But will his strategy work? Politics is an uncertain and unpredictable game in which there are many unexpected twists and turns.
It is now up to the BJP, both at the state and the Centre, to counteract. Lingayat votes are considered important in at least 100 seats, so neither side can afford to take them for granted, least of all antagonise them.
Whatever the electoral calculations, one thing, however, is crystal clear. Both Siddaramaiah and the Congress have directly exposed themselves as champions of the breaking India forces who thrive on dividing rather than uniting society. Their attempts to separate Lingayats from the larger Hindu community are thus bound to fail, if not backfire.
Whatever their legal status or the benefits accruing therefrom, except for a small, sometimes vocal, anti Hindu lobby among them, both Lingayats and Veerashaivas are staunch Hindus. In fact, both words signify the same broad grouping of Shaivaite communities, which have traditions and practices predating their 12th-century reformer-guru, Basava.
Like Catholics and Protestants among the Christians, some are more reformist or purist than others, but to say that either or both sects are non-Hindu would make no sense at all.
Indeed, if the logic of Karnataka’s expert committee were to be accepted, almost every Hindu sect or community should be given the status of a religious minority since each of them has its own unique set of doctrines and practices. Given the present constitutional provisions, who would wish to remain a majority Hindu? All would prefer to be minorities, to garner some benefit or other from the state. Or those who had no benefits to demand would at least be saved from government interference if they secured the “minority” tag.
What the BJP needs immediately is a strong political attack against Siddharamaiah’s fragmentary vote-bank politics. Unseating him and wresting back Karnataka from the Congress is an absolute imperative.
In addition, the nationalist party needs a longer-term strategy to counter such anti-Hindu moves and constitutional provisions. Behind a good deal of legal and theological confusion is that we have no notion of religion in the Western sense. It is this absence that has led to much legal-political mischief-mongering. Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists have all turned themselves into Western-style religions. Now Hindus, with their innumerable sampradayas and branches, are also half-heartedly following suit.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)