Siddaramaiah's decision on Lingayat minority status counters BJP in its own language, may upset its apple cart
The Lingayat movement for a separate religious identity has the potential to upset the BJP’s apple cart in Karnataka.
The Congress government in Karnataka has approved a seven-member committee’s recommendation to accord separate minority religion status to Lingayats. This comes even as Rahul Gandhi is taking an approach of soft Hindutva to counter Narendra Modi. Siddaramaiah is exploring home-grown solutions to ensure a Congress victory in the state. The BJP is caught between its Hindu nationalist ideological moorings and the assertion of a non-Hindu identity by the Lingayats. The community accounts for 17 percent of the state’s population and is a key support base of the BJP, especially its strongman BS Yeddyurappa.
Unlike in Gujarat, where the Congress primarily ran an anti-Modi campaign, Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah has invented a new local political idiom to counter the aggressive BJP campaign. The Congress fights the BJP's aggressive nationalism with equally aggressive regional sub-nationalism epitomised by the state flag, the river dispute, etc. Similarly, the Congress is challenging BJP's politico-religious Hindutva campaign with Lingayat identity politics.
The Karnataka government based its decision to accord minority status to the Lingayats on the recommendations of the Nagamohan committee under Section 2D of the state Minorities Commission Act. With the state Cabinet approving the proposal, it will now go to the Centre for final approval, turning it into a test for the Modi government.
Siddaramaiah appears to be countering the BJP in its own language. Emotive religious issues are always high on the BJP's poll agenda. Its rivals always find it difficult to counter such a narrative. However, the Congress’ regional satrap in Karnataka could make the saffron brigade run for ideas and counter strategies.
The Congress has been backing the demand for recognising Lingayatism as a distinct religion. Such a demand is completely unpalatable for the BJP, a party which builds itself around Hindu nationalism.
Hinduism is an amorphous religion that assimilates in itself myriad schools and sects. But such an explanation cannot convince those who feel that their creed is a religion on its own.
Lingayatism has had a split personality in the course of its evolution, as it has imbibed several features of Hinduism, while inheriting a rich legacy of progressive struggle against the caste system that plagues it.
For years now, the community has been mainly rallying behind the BJP. The party’s chief ministerial candidate BS Yeddyurappa, though scam-tainted, is considered a powerful Lingayat leader.
The Lingayats are not united on the issue. However, ground reports indicate that those who clamour for a separate religious identity constitute the major part of the community. It appears that support for the cause is growing.
The BJP’s Hindi-Hindu image still impedes its prospects south of the Vindhyas. Karnataka was the first state to break the ice. However, a series of corruption scandals has made the party eat humble pie. The Dravidian movement made neighbouring Tamil Nadu a difficult terrain for the BJP. Now, the Lingayat movement for a separate religious identity has the potential to upset the BJP’s apple cart.
The BJP, which is determined to come back to power by capitalising on possible anti-incumbency, finds Lingayatism a hard nut to crack.
The Lingayats who want a separate religious identity quote the preachings of their icon Basava to defend their standpoint. Basava, the 12th century philosopher and social reformer repudiated Brahminical Hinduism and its caste system, as also Vedic rituals and traditions that form the core of the Hindu religion.
Basava had said, “The stories of divine birth are false. The higher type of man is the man who knows himself.”
Strongly denouncing the caste system practiced in Hinduism, he had further asked, “Is there anyone in the world who was born through the ear? Just like the outcast and the chandala, the Brahmin too was born in a human womb.”
Nowhere else in India does the BJP face such complex social questions in order to challenge from Congress. In Gujarat, the Congress could make the BJP nervous by attempting a social engineering comprising of Dalits, OBCs and Patels. This has certainly benefited the Congress electorally, although it could not attain power. The BJP faces a much bigger political challenge emanating from social issues as Karnataka goes for polls.
Thus, the Karnataka political idiom seems to be at variance today with what it was in the past, making the contest much more keen and acrimonious.
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