There arises no shred of doubt when I assert that the current political scenario in India can only be seen as a golden era for the Bhartiya Janata Party. The BJP led NDA government at the time holds power in 21 out of 29 states of India. This is can be termed as the zenith of power in possession by the party, since its inception  4 decades ago.

BJP’s untainted winning since 2014

Undoubtedly the year 2014 was a turning point in the history of this party which then went on a winning spree. Yes, there have been certain setbacks since then; which primarily includes Punjab, Delhi, and the more recent by-election results of U.P. and Bihar. It does give a chance to opposition to cry foul. But the BJP led NDA has reached a position where even if it hypothetically loses the 2019 LS elections even then it would be a tough task to wipe it out.

The victory in Tripura is phenomenal wherein the 25-year-old CPI(M) government of Tripura saw winning a majority of the NDA. It is a spectacular evidence for the fact that the BJP is here to stay.

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BJP bottling up sources for Karnataka

Invigorated by the North-east election results, the party now prepares to channel its energy towards the poll-bound Karnataka. The elections will take place in April/May. But the state of Karnataka puts up a great challenge. The incumbent Congress government is most certainly not willing to give-into the Modi/BJP wave.

In fact, this is a state wherein the Congress being a National level party has a very strong regional leader. The incumbent Siddaramaiah who once had his allegiance with the Janata Dal (Secular) but moved on to join the INC.

Congress playing the cards of appeasement politics 

There is a major indicator that the Congress is ready to give a tough fight to the BJP in Karnataka. The Siddaramaiah government announced its support for the Lingayat community. The community demands recognition as a separate religious minority as opposed to a Hindu sub-caste.

Not only that, the CM also wrote a letter of recommendation to the Centre asking for a separate religious minority tag for the Lingayats. It was a move in consonance with the recommendation of a report by a special committee under the chairmanship of X-Justice H. N. Nagamohan Das. Simultaneously, the Congress President Rahul Gandhi started a tour of the state. He jumped on to the temple run not missing the lingayat mutts in a bid to revitalize the age-old appeasement politics.

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Rahul Gandhi openly showed his support for the lingayat community and for their demand of a “separate religion”. Whilst the political opponents called this a clear move of appeasement politics, class distinction and broadly using the religious sentiments for political gains as done by the Congress. Its spokespersons spent the week only defying such allegations and maintain that this move does not have any political motivation.

But one might wonder as to what makes this particular community and its demand for a separate religious tag. Is it so important that the incumbent CM’s move to support it is termed as a “masterstroke” by political commentators?

Of Lingayathism 

To understand its demand for a separate religious minority tag, the history, demographics, and overall political role of this community needs attention. The major bone of contention is the fact that the Lingayathism asserts itself as a religion completely independent and separate from Hinduism.

Their demand to be recognized is almost 8 decades old. They were tagged as Hindus as per the major Personal Law which is the Hindu Succession Act, 1956. The said Act has been expressly made applicable “to any person, who is a Hindu by religion in any of its forms or developments including a Virashaiva, a Lingayat”. Thus the Lingayat community finds an express mention in the Hindu Succession Act. It is thus recognized as a “form” or “development” of the Hindu religion.

But the Lingayat leaders, scholars and the community in general believes and asserts that their norms and practices are in stark opposition to the tenets of Hinduism. And there are a lot of fundamental differences between Lingayatism and Hinduism.

The origins of Lingayathism

Lingayathism found its roots in the 12th century by Guru Basaveshwara; runs on the philosophy and the aim to stop the evil traditions. To put a stop at bifurcating people by birth, to stop male-female inequality, to provide education to people. The Lingayat literature explains the clear proper concept of God. It provides a way to worship the God in the form of Ishtalinga.

This sect rejects all the superstitious beliefs and is monotheistic who denounce the Hindu-caste system and have styled themselves as the antithesis of the Sanatana Dharma which means that they do not follow or believe the Vedic literature and the teachings in Manusmriti.

The followers of Lingayathism do not believe in the concept of heaven and hell, reincarnation, pilgrimage or horoscope. An interesting fact is that Lingayathism which started off as a revolt against the Hindu-caste (varna) system actually ended up becoming a sub-caste itself.  

Difference between Lingayats and Veerashaiva

Adding to the already perplexing state of affairs in the debate over Lingayathism is the confusion between the Lingayats and the Veerashaivas. According to historical facts are actually two different schools of philosophy.

Lingayathism as explained before essentially emerged from the revolutionary teachings of Basavanna. He was a poet-saint and a social reformer who rebelled against the Hindu society and established a new dharma. On the other hand, Veerashaiva is actually an order of the Shaiva faith.  It is one of the two Vedic faiths, the other one being the Vaishnava faith.

The Vaishnavas and Shaivas believe in the Vedic texts and practices like the Varna system. They form the Sanatana Dharma. Veerashaivas believe that they are born straight out of the Shivalingam – the phallic symbol worshipped by Shaivas. The panchacharyas are the head of this faith and it is safe to say that the Veerashaiva faith is identical to the Brahmanical belief that they are born from the ears of Brahma.

But in contrast to that, the Basavanna in his teachings rejected belief in Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh (Shiva). Thus, the only clear reason as to why these two sects are often prone to confusion with each other might be because of the popular notion that they both follow Shiva as the ultimate which is not the actual position.

While there is no doubt as to the fact that Veerashaivas follow Shiva and the Shivalingam as their deity; Lingayathism essentially believes that God has no form and is rather a form of energy which is represented through the Ishtalinga. It resembles a Shivalinga but is not purported to be one.

Basavanna’s philosophy was reduced to writing by sharana writers according to beliefs. They were ousted from their kingdom of Bijjala after Basavanna himself was forced to flee. In the process, much of sharana literature was destroyed and some were hidden.

This created an intellectual vacuum for the Lingayat people. And they, of course, gravitated towards a more Brahminical way of life. Thus, a sect called the Veerashaiva-Lingayat also emerges who do not differentiate between Veerashaivas and Lingayats. This sect is more popular as the common notion is that Lingayat-Veerashaiva is one and the same.

The political importance of Lingayats

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Estimates show that the Lingayat community forms 17 percent of the total population of the state of Karnataka. It influences more than 100 constituencies out of the 224 constituencies in the state. Thus a major vote bank after the Vokkaliga community. 19 Lingayat sub-sects at the time are recognized as OBCs (Other Backward Classes) and receive the benefits of reservation. Therefore this amounts to almost the community of Lingayats.

Lingayats role in the politics of Karnataka is very active. After the unification and the formation of the state of Karnataka in the year 1956 up until the year 1972, four Lingayat chief ministers ruled the state. Namely, S Nijalingappa, B D Jatti, S R Kanthi and Veerendra Patil.

Between 1972 and 1983, a Kshatriya D Devaraja Urs and a Brahmin R Gundurao ruled the state minus much Lingayat backing. Ramakrishna Hegde, who became Karnataka’s first non-Congress chief minister in 1983, was also a Lingayat leader even though he was a Brahmin. In 1989, a Lingayat stalwart Veerendra Patil swept the polls by winning 181 seats in the 224-member house.

Thus it became clear that this community possesses the power to make or break a government in Karnataka. Even if one does manage to form a government without its support, it may not be able to stay in power for long.

It is undisputed that the Lingayats control the biggest vote bank in the state. The Vokkaligas only come second in line. This may be because of the economic power of the Lingayats and the general agreeableness of the community. It is a front-runner in the field of education having founded many educational institutions in the state.

This is a community of intellectuals who are spiritual followers as opposed to the blind faith following in the usual religious fashion. It would also be wrong to believe that the Lingayats have a usual allegiance to the BJP as its Hindutva connotation was once the backbone of the Congress. After Devaraja Urs ended Lingayat hegemony in the party, they shifted to Janata Parivar. After the disintegration of the Janata experiment, they started backing the BJP and accepted B S Yeddyurappa as their leader.

INC’s rather frantic move

Rahul Gandhi’s final examination in state politics is the upcoming Karnataka elections. The INC is not ready to lose this one. Karnataka is the only state where the INC has held power and can reasonably expect to come back. The Siddaramaiah government’s audacious move to accord an independent religion tag to Lingayats is rather desperate. A frantic decision primarily aimed at winning back the trust of Lingayats which is also crucial to weakening the BJP.

RaGa recites the teachings from Basavanna’s vachanas, meets the Lingayat seers and visits mutts. It also evidently tries hard to rupture the Hindu unification tactics of BJP. But what he forgets that if in 2013 the BJP lost to the Congress. It was because B.S Yeddyurappa had fielded his own candidates under the Karnataka Janatha Party banner.

But in 2018 Yeddyurappa is a BJP face with a strong Lingayat backing and on the other hand, Congress lacks a Lingayat face and its attempt to woo the Lingayats by offering the religious minority tag without even looking into the current trends and inclination of the community is only a sensational political move without putting in much thought.

This decision also reckons a foot-in-mouth situation for Congress. According to reports, in 2013, Congress leader Veerappa Moily also wrote to the Centre. He requested for the religious minority status to the Lingayats. However, it suffered rejection by the Congress under the leadership of the then INC President Ms. Sonia Gandhi and the then PM Manmohan Singh.

The Siddaramaiah Government’s notification: The ball is in the Centre’s court

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The Siddaramaiah Government on 23rd March 2018 issued a notification recognising Lingayats and Veerashaivas who practice Basava tattva as religious minorities. They did not pay heed to the criticism received from many notable people of the community including the All India Veerashaiva Mahasabha (AIVM.) They called this move as an attempt to divide the community for electoral dividends. The notification points that the Veerashaivas who follow the Basava tattva are also  Lingayats.

The said notification will be applicable only from the date when the Centre notifies and recognizes the notification under National Minorities Commission Act, 1992, Act 19 and section 2(c). Thus the burden now is on the Central Government to identify the Lingayats. 

Also, the Siddaramaiah Government is careful enough not to disturb the reservation clauses. Thus refraining from riling up its core vote bank i.e., the Minorities, Backward Classes, and Dalits (AHINDA). The benefits which the Lingayat community may get is under the Constitutional freedom of religion under Articles 25-28.

Another glaring problem is the fact that adding Veerashaiva word would go against the very purpose of declaring Lingayats a religious minority. Because the Centre has already rejected that proposal saying that Veershaivas are Shaivaites can’t be called a separate religion.

It is, therefore, crystal clear that religion and politics have hands in glove kind of relation in India. Political parties make the most use of existing differences and also strive to create differences within communities to gain political advantage.

Furthermore, another tactic used is never to put an end to an issue. To keep it alive for a suitable time for usage by any political party whatsoever. Therefore, there is a strong possibility that this issue of Lingayats is going to be a victim in a manner to benefit either of the parties.

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