For almost 24 hours after the Karnataka government recommended the creation of the new Lingayat religion, BS Yeddyurappa – the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate in the state and a Lingayat leader – chose to not react. This was despite the BJP strongly opposing the state government’s decision.
Then appearing before the media on Tuesday morning, Yeddyurappa said he will stand by the decision of the All India Veerashaiva Mahasabha (AIVM), an umbrella organisation of Veerashaivas and Lingayats in India.
The announcement came as a surprise to many as the chairman of the Mahasabha, Shamanur Shivashankarappa, on Monday, had welcomed the government’s decision.
But within hours of Yeddyurappa’s statement, Shivashankarappa called for a press conference and retracted his statement. He said the Mahasabha’s decision will be announced only after a meeting, and that he had prematurely supported the decision.
Although his retraction is said be because of Yeddyurappa’s intervention, the BJP state president has not directly criticised the government on this decision.
One of the probable reasons for Yeddyurappa’s reluctance to attack the government on the Lingayat issue, even though his party has been going all out, is said to be a memorandum he signed in 2013.
Yeddyurappa was a signatory in the memorandum – leaked in July 2017 – sent to the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh by the AIVM, seeking a religious status for the combined Veerashaiva-Lingayat community.
The 2013 Memorandum Returns to Bite Yeddyurappa
The Lingayat community comprises two sub-sects – Lingayats and Veerashaivas. Yeddyurappa is a Veerashaiva who has been projected as a leader of the unified Lingayat community by the BJP.
He has, in the past, opposed the creation of separate, exclusive religion for Lingayats. However, he supported a religion tag for the unified Veerashaiva-Lingayat community – separate from Hinduism.
Yeddyurappa in the past had tried to change his stand, claiming Lingayats and Veerashaivas are Hindus, but the leaked memorandum document called his bluff.
In the memorandum dated 25 July 2013, Shivashankarappa had asked for separate code, number, column and abbreviation to record the religion of the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community in the census form.
The memorandum, carrying Yeddyurappa’s signature, read:
“We, the undersigned people’s representatives of Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Goa and other parts of the country, comprising about four crore people from the community, gathered on 25 July and resolved to support the memorandum.”
Mahasabaha Approves Govt Decision, Then Retracts It
Adding to Yeddyurappa’s woes, Shivashankarappa gave a statement supporting the government’s decision on Monday.
“We accept the decision of the cabinet meeting headed by CM Siddaramaiah. He has made the decision to do justice to both Veerashaivas and Lingayats – and this is acceptable to us,” he said.
BJP sources told The Quint that following this statement, Yeddyurappa had been in talks with the Mahasabha, asking them to reconsider their stand on the issue. Following which, on Tuesday, the AIVM chairman retracted his statement, and said that a decision on the issue will be taken after a meeting of the Mahasabha.
However, Yeddyurappa’s options to create political opposition to the decision are limited, as the government’s proposal does not differentiate between Lingayats and Veerashaivas.
Hindu Veerashaivas Will Continue to Enjoy Benefits
In Karnataka state caste reservation list, Veerashaiva-Lingayat are classified under section 3B. Under this section, the community enjoys reservations up to 5 percent. When the new religion was announced by the government, this section 3B was used to identify who will be a part of the new religion, which effectively brought the entire community under the new religion.
However, a clause was added that only those Veerashaivas who follow Basavanna will be a part of the new religion.
The Veerashaivas who refuse to follow Basavanna and want to remain Hindus, could have been targeted by the BJP to raise an opposition. But, foreseeing this, the government said that the benefits enjoyed by those coming under section 3B will continue regardless of the new religion. This ensured that those opting out of the new religion will not lose their existing benefits.
The lack of options to counter the Congress on the Lingayat issue has become a setback for Yeddyurappa and his fortunes in the upcoming Karnataka elections will depend heavily on how he can ensure his largest vote bank stays with him. Successfully convincing AIVM to oppose the government’s decision can be a major boost for the BJP towards this goal.
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