Cong out to win over Lingayats, to push for separate religion tag

Cong out to win over Lingayats, to push for separate religion tag

Cong out to win over Lingayats, to push for separate religion tag
The ruling Congress appears to have decided to step up its efforts to woo the dominant Lingayat community: Five Lingayat ministers in the Siddaramaiah Cabinet will embark on a state-wide tour next month to campaign for declaring the Veerashaiva-Lingayat dharma as a separate religion.

Addressing a press conference in Bengaluru on Monday, Higher Education Minister Basavaraj Rayareddi said ministers — Sharanprakash Patil, Eshwar Khandre, Vinay Kulkarni, S S Mallikarjun and himself — will tour the state, meeting community leaders, Lingayat math heads, office-bearers of Ahkila Bharatha Veerashaiva Mahasabha among others to push for declaring the Veerashaiva-Lingayat dharma as a separate religion.

He said once the Lingayat-Veerashaiva dharma is declared an independent religion, the community will seek “minority” status. “What is wrong in that.... Veerashaivas are neither Hindus nor any sub-sect of the Hindus. They are groups that emerged following a movement against casteism, inequality, feudalism and gender discrimination in Hindu society. We must be declared a separate religion and given minority status,” Rayareddi said, replying to a volley of questions from reporters.

The move by the ministers, which comes close on the heels on the demand for an official status to the state flag, is seen as a well planned strategy by the Congress to politically take on the BJP ahead of next year’s elections. The Lingayat community, by and large, is considered to electorally back the BJP across the state. By playing the separate religion card, the Congress is keen to make inroads into the BJP support base, say political observers.

Last week, a section of the Lingayat community took out a rally in Bidar and revived the demand for the formation of a separate religion for the community. They submitted a memorandum to Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who said he was ready to take it up with the Centre if there is unanimity among the community leaders.

However, Rayareddi denied that the move to seek a separate religion tag for Veerashaiva-Lingayat dharma was politically motivated. On the timing of the revival of the demand, the minister said it was just a coincidence and had nothing to do with the Assembly elections. He also denied that the Congress was playing the “Lingayat card” to take on the “Hindutva card” of the BJP and that the minority tag for Lingayat-Veerashaiva dharma will be used to bring the community into the Ahinda vote bank.

Rayareddi criticised BJP state president B S Yeddyurappa for stating that Veerashaivas are Hindus and that Siddaramaiah was trying to divide the community. “Yeddyurappa does not know anything about Lingayats. He follows the RSS ideology which has its foundations in Hindu philosophy,” Rayareddi said.
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