Kalaburagi: Has the massive rally organised by the Lingayats at Bidar on Wednesday, seeking an independent religion status for them, brought to the fore differences within the community over whether Lingayats and Veerashaivas are the same or are different sects?
If one goes by the statements issued by mathadhipathis, political leaders and intellectuals, it is clear that instead of sending a clear message that the community is united in seeking the independent religion status, like Sikhism or Jainism, the swamijis and community leaders are divided and are more keen on settling scores with each other.
The rally and the subsequent statement by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah too have raised serious questions about the “unseen hand”, which have prompted some of these religious heads to take to the streets to voice their demand and also flex their muscle against the Akhila Bharatha Veerashaiva Mahasabha, which represents both Veerashaivas and Lingayats across the country.
Though over a dozen swamijis of “Virakta Mutts” from mainly Bidar and some neighbouring districts, including Mate Mahadevi of Koodalasangama Basava Dharma Peetha, took part in the rally, heads of various other prominent Virakta Mutts kept themselves away.
The Lingayats constitute around 20% of the total population of Karnataka and are the largest community, followed by the Vokkaligas. They're dominant in close to 100 of the 224 assembly seats, mostly in North Karnataka, and there have been nine chief ministers from the community so far.
The demand for a separate religion status has been a long pending one, with the All-India Veerashaiva Mahasabha, an umbrella organisation of Veerashaivas and Lingayats, having raised it more than a decade ago.
Though the question whether the Veerashaivas and Lingayats are identical or not was raised whenever the demand for a separate religion was voiced, never in the past did the “Lingayats”, who claim themselves to be the followers of 12th century social reformer Basavanna, target the “Veerashaivas” and also the Mahasabha in the manner they did it on Wednesday at Bidar.
In the memorandum addressed to the Chief Minister, they dismissed the fact that the Mahasabha was a “representative body of Lingayats”.
Dr Saarangadhar Desikendra Swamiji of Srishaila, popularly known as Sulapahal Mutt Swamiji, said the proponents of Lingayat dharma opposed Veerashaivism, because like Hindusim it discriminated against the people based on their birth, and upheld Vedas, Agamas, Shastras, Puranas and followed the Vedic religious practices. “On the contrary, Basavanna, who we revere as our Dharmaguru, fought against the caste system and tried to establish an egalitarian society. In the opinion of Veerashaiva Jagadgurus, Veerashaivism was founded by Sri Renukacharya and Basavanna was one of the gurus in the Shaiva guru parampare. But for us, Basavanna is the founder of Lingayat dharma, which is opposed to the Sanatana Dharma,” he said. The swamiji felt that differences among Virakta Mutts, following the Basava tradition or philosophy and the five Veerashaiva Jagadguru Samsthanas (Kashi, Kedar, Srishaila, Balehonnur and Dwaraka) following Shaiva-philosophy who claim Sri Renukacharya as the founder of Veerashaivism had been there for ages and they are not going to be resolved.
“Let them (Veerashaivas) go their own way, we are not bothered. We want a separate religion status for the Lingayats, so that like Sikhs and Jains we get benefits in education and other fields,” he said.
While there are more than 4,000 Shivacharya Mutts in the country, 2,000 of them are Virakta Mutts. Asserting that their religion met the Constitutional requirement to be declared a religion, the Swamiji said that around 200 swamijis of Virakta Mutts will stage a dharna at the Freedom Park in Bengaluru on Septmber 4, demanding the enactment of the Anti-Superstition Bill and also seek a separate religion status for the Lingayats.
CM’s ‘eagerness’ raises eyebrows
The “eagerness” shown by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah to recommend to the union government the demand for declaring Lingayat as a separate religion has raised many eyebrows in political circles.
In Dharwad, Mr Siddaramaiah said that he would forward the recommendation to the Centre if the demand from the community is unanimous.
“It’s a well-known fact that majority of Lingayats support the Bharatiya Janata Party. By voicing his support to the demand of these swamijis, who are at loggerheads with the the Akhila Bharath Veerashaiva Mahasabha, he can hope to drive a wedge between them and try to garner their support in the coming elections. He can also wean away the Lingayats from the BJP,” a political observer said, adding that the recent order by the chief minister to put the portrait of Basavanna at all government offices too was aimed at wooing the Lingayat voters.