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October 2017 Edition of Power Politics is updated.  Happy Diwali to all our subscribers and Distributors       October 2017 Edition of Power Politics is updated.   Happy Diwali to all our subscribers and Distributors       
Issue:Sep' 2017


Congress bid to break BJP vote bank

A raging controversy over the origin of Lingayats and whether they are the same as the Veerashaivas is sweeping Karnataka. It has also given a political twist to the debate what with Assembly polls barely a few months away. Mamtha Sharma gives an insight into why the Lingayats want a separate religion tag, their claim of being different from the Veerashaivas as also the accompanying politics of the Congress to break BJP 's vote bank.

Siddaramaiah When a group of L i n g a y a t ministers from the ruling Congress in Karnataka met two months ago to seek a separate religious identity for the community, little did it know that the party would be hoist with its own petard soon.
For, what was originally conceived as a brilliant idea to divide BJP's Lingayat vote bank has now become a messy exercise. More so, as one of the primary promoters of the idea, chief minister, Siddaramiah's water resources minister, M B Patil, finds himself embroiled in a controversy with the Siddaganga mutth in Tumkuru district involving its over 106 year old pontiff.

M B Patil Patil had met the pontiff, Sri Shivakumara Swami , one of the most respected Lingayat seers , seeking endorsement of the Congress group's idea. While it is difficult to know what the revered swamiji actually said, the fact is that Patil came out beaming after the meeting ; even held a press conference immediately to announce that the pontiff had found nothing wrong in the demand for a religious status for the Lingayat dharma and the accompanying minority position.
Within 24 hours, however, Patil had to eat crow as the Tumkuru mutth issued a statement denying that its swamiji had ever endorsed his demand. This development further divided the Lingayat community with its Veerashaiva sect coming out vehemently against the move by the motley group of Congressmen.
Especially as even within the Congress, a section of the Veerashaiva Lingayats do not favour what some of them termed as "Patil's adventure."
Besides, the debate involving the mutth has inadvertently helped the BJP. The party is only too eager to play the Hindu card with the section of the Veerashaiva Lingayats, who consider themselves closer to Hinduism and its practices, even recognising the Vedas and the scriptures. The Lingayat--- Veerashaiva combine, accounting for 17 per cent of the six crore population in Karnatatka, are a major vote bank of the BJP. The dominant community has a huge influence in about 100 of the 224 Assembly seats ,largely in north Karnataka. This sect ,incidentally ,has given about nine chief ministers to the state since Independence .
The unseemly controversy has also brought the differences between the two major sects of the Lingayat community to the fore, what with both the Congress and the BJP trying to benefit from it even as the debate raised the curiosity of the uninitiated.

The Lingayats

Basavanna Basavanna, the well known social reformer , founded the Lingayat dharma with his emphasis on a casteless society in the 12 century . A Brahmin by birth, he spoke against prevalent practices like keeping women away during menstruation, promoted widow remarriage, gender equality and above all women's empowerment.
Witness, therefore, his radical teachings which encouraged women to adopt children even after their husband's death while favouring the right to inheritance for women , all of which got him unprecedented support as he subsequently went on to promote a casteless society.
His logic was simple: all occupations were holy and one could not be demeaned for doing what he or she did for a living . His stand against untouchability endeared him to the masses as he raised his voice against temple visits , claiming that if one had to pray to God one could do so at one's home.
Carry your own Shiva emblem on your left palm . This was this Shiva devotee's credo as he spoke against the concept of rebirth, karma and consequently punarjanma ; even disputing the existence of heaven and hell while starting the Lingayat dharma. In short, Basavanna rejected everything about the Hindu religion and rebelled against it while preaching in Kannada instead of Sanskrit.
The Lingayat movement rebelled against the prevalent Brahmanical system, rejecting the Vedic authority, the (varna) ashrams, multiplicity of gods, priesthood, animal sacrifice, karmic bondage, the existence of inner worlds, duality of god and soul and the traditions of "ritual purity-pollution, " to quote S M Jamdar, former bureaucrat and Linagayat Mahasabha coordinator .
This explains Patil group's demand that Lingayat dharma should be declared a separate religion and enjoy the minority status akin to what the Jains,Christians and the Muslims do. In other words, the plea is that if it were declared a separate religion, the Lingayats can also get the benefits of a minority community.
For the Brahmin --oppressed classes of that period , Basavanna's revolutionary thinking came as a blessing .
Saints like Akka Mahadevi and Allama Prabhu, to name just two, also played a major role in taking the movement forward adding to the vachanas or prose texts on social reforms in large numbers. Basavana even had the courage to get the daughter of a cobbler married to a Brahmin boy much to the anger of King Bijala of the Kalachuri dynasty or present day north Karnataka in whose court he held a high position. The king, egged on by the orthodox Brahmins who were waiting to get back at Basavanna , was so angry that he had the parents of

The Veershaivas were worshippers of Shiva, akin to the manner of the Hindus,in sharp contrast to the Lingayats who believe in Basavanna's formless Shiva . In terms of religious practice, Basavanna propagated only the worship of Ishta Linga without encouraging rituals, ceremonies and sacrifices.

the bride and groom killed brutally ,in the process fuelling a revolt in which Bijala himself was murdered.
In this struggle, the orthodox Brahmins gained the upper hand forcing those practising the teachings of Basavanna to move out of the kingdom in a hurry . Even Basavana left the place . In the process, several thousand vachanas also got lost or misplaced as the followers had to flee to different parts of south India and present day Maharashtra.

The Veerashaivas

Along side ,however ,came the Veerashaivas, largely from areas in what is now called Andhra Pradesh today , who flocked to join the Basavanna movement , influenced by his teachings. According to Jamdar , the Veerashaivas followed Basavanna's teachings for about 200 years but not before reviving their own Vedic practices and beliefs, in the process corrupting the teachings and thoughts of the social reformer.
This is not to say that they did not incorporate some of his teachings like widow remarriage and social welfare and encouragement to charity.
Simultaneously with this development came the emergenece of new sects like the Gowda Lingayat, Banajiga Lingayat and the Ganiga Lingayats though the Veerashaiv Lingayats gained ascendancy.
The Veershaivas were worshippers of Shiva, akin to the manner of the Hindus,in sharp contrast to the Lingayats who believe in Basavanna's formless Shiva . In terms of religious practice, Basavanna propagated only the worship of Ishta Linga without encouraging rituals, ceremonies and sacrifices.
For a long time, however, it was difficult for people to distinguish between the two Lingayat sects with the Veerashaivas getting prominence, especially as Basavannas' vachanas had also got lost and the devotees did not have much to bank upon. Suddenly ,however, about 150 years ago ,over 22,000 Vachanas were discovered which strengthened the claim of the social reformer's followers that they were not part of the Hindu sect and the Veerashaivas were different from them ; and that Basavanna indeed was the founder of "Lingayatism." Subsequently following scholarly works by M Kalburgi and others ,these arguments gained momentum as they went about researching on the newly discovered vachanas, in the process intensifying the differences further.

Politics of it all

B S Yeddyurappa Today, however, a section of the Congress ministers and MLAs have revived the old debate , urging the state and the Central government to grant the Lingayats a separate religion status . Siddaramiah is even setting up an expert group to look into the demand.
According to M B Patil, the Veershaivas who consider themselves Hindus within the Lingayat community, can be declared a different sect altogether. Outside the Lingayat religion , that is , if they so want.
It is not difficult to see that the revival of the demand has the blessings of chief minister Siddaramiah who is going all out to win the 2018 assembly polls.
The move ,however , does place BJP's Yeddurappa in a Catch 22 situation. If the party supports the Lingayat movement for a separate religioun tag , it would go against all that it holds dear as a largely Hindu dominated party. The converse could impact its vote back too.
Yeddyurappa is not too keen to go public with his views for now as the Lingayat-Veerashaiva combine is his main support base. In the event there is indeed a split in this vote bank, it could spell trouble for the BJP. For now though the sullied image of the Congress following the Siddaganga Mutth –Patil episode ,has allowed the BJP some breathing time ; even some advantage, albeit brief.
This is because the Patil incident may force the Congress to go slow for now ,particularly when the Veerashaivas within its ranks are beginning to protest against the minority Congress group's 'adventure."