Minister for Mines and Geology Vinay Kulkarni is one among the several Lingayat ministers who are vociferously demanding Independent religion status for their community. The two-time legislator is known for his aggressive and straight forward nature. He has also been serving as working president of Murugha Mutt in Dharwad, which is one of the oldest Lingayat religious institutions in North Karnataka. The minister along with the seer of the Mutt is among leaders in the region spearheading the campaign for minority tag for the community. The close confidant of the Chief Minister spoke on the need for special religion status for his community, in an interview with Deccan Chronicle. Excerpts
You participated in a mammoth rally in Belagavi which was attended by over one lakh people. What is the main message that the rally sent out?
All seers and leaders who gathered at the rally were firm that Lingayats should be accorded religion status. Our population constitutes more than 3.5 crore in the country; we revere the great social reformer Basaveshwara as our Guru. We are seeking minority tag like Muslims, Sikhs and Buddhists as our community has its own history. This time, the voice is getting shriller as religion status was rejected twice when the proposal was presented under the banner of the Veerashaiva Lingayat combine.
Seers and representatives of the Pancha Peethas have opposed religion tag for only one sect of Lingayats. Instead, they have sought 15 percent reservation for the community. What is your opinion on this?
The principles and ideology of the founder of Lingayat religion, Basaveshwara are totally different from the thoughts of the Veerashaiva Pancha Peetha. Lingayats cannot be part of such Veerashaiva or Vedic religion. We have no objection if they don’t want religion tag. Let them live separately. But, they should not foil our attempts to get minority tag which is our right. The Lingayat religion took birth around 900 years ago; we are not establishing it now. Therefore, we will never relent on our stand seeking religion status. We are ready to consider Veerashaivas as a part of Lingayats if they follow the principles of Basaveshwara. I am confident that Veerashaivas will join us in the demand for separate religion tag for Lingayats in future. They are not outsiders and will definitely get government benefits once minority tag is given to Lingayats.
The Chief Minister told pontiffs that he would not forward the proposal to the Centre unless both factions come together. He has almost decided to drop the idea to recommend religion status to the Centre owing to lack of consensus.
It is impossible to drop the proposal of the state government seeking religion tag for Lingayats. We will continue our fight until our demand is fulfilled. The movement will never stop and dates have also been announced for big Lingayat rallies in several districts. The agitation is also going on in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. The movement will be intensified in the days to come to exert pressure on the Chief Minister.
Is there a possibility of both factions coming together? How?
The chance of Lingayats and Veerashaivas coming together appears remote at this juncture. I am hopeful that there will be unity among them and they will join hands under a common Lingayat religion. But, we will not agree if Veerashaivas fail to relent in their stand. We have crores of people who are fighting for Lingayat religion. All seers, who accept the ideology and preachings of the 12th century social reformer, are with us.
Your group tried to divide Lingayats to help CM Siddaramaiah get a large chunk of votes. Has the strategy fallen flat?
It is wrong to say that we are trying to gain political mileage from the controversy over Lingayat religion. Some developments have occurred one after the other after the Chief Minister was felicitated by community leaders two months ago. The demand for religion status gained momentum after seers and common people belonging to the Lingayat sect began to raise their voice by voluntarily taking part in rallies.
Your own party leader, Shamanur Shivashankarappa has opposed religion status for Lingayats. What do you have to say on this?
I don’t want to speak about any leader within the party or outside. We will continue our agitation. There is no question of any leader or leadership here, it is a movement of the people who have voluntarily plunged into it. Such a public movement cannot be stopped or provoked just by using the influence of any leader. We will get Lingayat religion tag through such agitations- one day like the baby is bound to be delivered from the mother’s womb after the due date.
Going by past developments, Veerashaiva Lingayats prefer their community leader become Chief Minister than work under a Chief Minister from another caste. If this is so, a large section of community votes will go to the BJP’s mascot and Lingayat leader B.S. Yeddyurappa. This being the case, don’t you think the strategy to attract community votes for the Congress has failed to work?
I don’t think the community will back Yeddyurappa to the hilt in the next Assembly elections. Politics will not come in the way when the question of religion arises. We will render our service to the community by setting aside our political affiliations. It is not possible to utilize Lingayat or Veerashaiva organisations for political purposes.
Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said he was personally for the religion tag for Lingayats. This shows he is engaging in vote bank politics. Why does the Congress and its leaders have to get involved in such politics if you are confident about your programmes?
Our honourable Chief Minister Siddaramaiah is aware of the principles of Basaveshwara. He has conducted a study of Lingayat religion. He has not emerged as a leader overnight and has seen many politicians like us in his career. He has taken part in several movements before becoming a great leader. He has expressed support for Lingayat religion as he is well aware of the preachings of Basaveshwara and his effort to attain equality and eradicate untouchability. Therefore, he has backed our demand and there is no politics involved in it. Veerashaivas are also well aware of this fact. But, they have become anxious just because Lingayats are deserting them. We will not desert them and have a lot of respect for them. But, we are not mad to send the proposal for religion tag in the name of the Veerashaiva-Lingayat combine again when it was rejected twice.
You are trying to emerge as an alternative leader to another Lingayat strongman, Jagadish Shettar of the Bharatiya Janata Party in North Karnataka by trying to divide Lingayats?
I have been taking part in several such movements since my college days. I have actively participated in many agitations since the last 28 years. But, I never had an illusion that it would make me a great leader. There is also a possibility that a leader may lose his image or prestige if he fails to attain success in such a movement. But, there is no need to go back when the agitation is meant to secure justice.