In l’affaire Lingayat, the Congress may have just shot itself in the foot

K Giriprakash Bengaluru | Updated on March 20, 2018 Published on March 20, 2018

In the end, the Siddaramaiah government’s ‘political masterstroke’ to accord Lingayats and Veershaivas the status of a minority religion may end up harming the ruling Congress’ own chances in the upcoming Assembly elections.

On the face of it, the decision of the Karnataka Cabinet to approve the State Minority Commission’s recommendation may seem a blow to BJP’s chief ministerial face BS Yeddyurappa and a victory for Siddaramaiah. The Chief Minister is busy throwing one dart after another — he had unveiled a State flag last week, and okayed the religion status for Lingayats — in the hope that one of them will hit the bull’s eye. But, political analysts say Siddaramaiah may have overreached this time.

The latest development, they feel, does not give either the Lingayats or the Veerashaivas any benefits, except the 50 per cent reservation for members of the community in educational institutions run by them.

Harish Ramaswamy, professor at the Post-graduate Department of Political Studies at Karnataka University, contends that following the government’s decision, smaller communities that worship Basavanna, the 12th century philosopher and social reformer, have moved to isolate the pancha peethas (whom the Veershaivas follow), and regroup under one umbrella. “This could lead to further division between the two sub-sects, and if this gets highlighted by one of the opposition parties, it will affect the chances of the Congress, especially in North Karnataka,” Ramaswamy told BusinessLine. As per rough estimates, of the 224 Assembly seats, Lingayats and Veerashivas have influence over 90-100 seats, mostly in North Karnataka.

Putting the issue in perspective, Chandan Gowda, Professor of Sociology, Azim Premji University, said the Congress has given expression to the Lingayat demand that the Veershaivas accord primary respect to Lord Basavanna and his philosophy. The Lingayats have also resented the social distance that the Veerashaivas kept towards them in matters of marriage and civil interactions.

“There are several ways of looking at it. One way is to look at it in terms of electoral consequences and see whether the Congress has endeared itself to the Lingayats by taking this decision. But at the same time, if you are a student of culture, the recognition of Lingayats as a separate religion is an exciting episode,” he said.

Ramaswamy also pointed out that the total population of the Lingayats and the Veershaivas has come down from 13 per cent to 9.8 per cent over the years, thereby eroding their political space, even as there is a steady growth of the OBCs. He also said the issue of the religion tag is also before the court, and if questions are asked about the manner in which the decision was arrived at, the Congress could find itself on the defensive with elections just months away.

By raking up an issue which could have been kept in abeyance till the end of the elections, the Congress seems to be frittering away the political advantage it had gained by training its guns on the Centre, he added. Voters who are more influenced by emotion than analysis can swing either way depending on how the Opposition milks the issue, Ramaswamy said.

On the other hand, what could hurt the BJP is the perceived lack of opposition to the government’s move from Yeddyurappa, himself a Lingayat. He has reportedly asked the All India Veerashaiva Mahasabha to discuss it, and said the BJP will stand by their decision. “However, if the Centre does not recognise the Lingayats as a separate religion, that could turn out to be an advantage for the Congress party,” Gowda said.

Published on March 20, 2018

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