Bangalore, July 29: The demand by a section of the Lingayat community to be recognised as an independent religion has rattled the BJP in Karnataka as any division in its single-biggest vote base could affect the party’s chances in the Assembly elections next year.
What has compounded the BJP’s problems is that besides the fact that several powerful Lingayat seers are backing the demand for constitutional recognition as a separate religion, the Congress has supported the call.
On July 21, more than 50,000 Lingayats organised a rally in north Karnataka’s Bidar. Chief minister P.C. Siddaramaiah quickly supported the demand.
State BJP president B.S. Yeddyurappa, himself a Lingayat, accused Siddaramaiah of trying to divide and rule.
Yeddyurappa, under enormous pressure to bring the BJP back to power in Karnataka, said: “He (Siddaramaiah) is trying to divide and rule. We are simply Hindus and cannot be separated from our religion.”
“Siddaramaiah is only politicising a religious issue. He is playing with fire. His attempts to create fissures within the Lingayats and extract electoral mileage will backfire,” the veteran BJP leader and former chief minister said.
Five Lingayat ministers in the Congress government has decided to tour the state and meet community leaders and seers to gather their opinion and submit a memorandum to the government.
“We will seek minority status for Lingayats,” higher education minister Basavaraj Rayareddy said.
The Lingayats are the third most populous community in Karnataka after the Dalits and the backward classes. Of the 6 crore Kannadigas, around 1.25 crore are Lingayats.
Since the emergence of the BJP under Yeddyurappa, large sections of the community began to be identified with the party.
Basavaraj Dhannur, one of the organisers of the July 21 rally, said he had already sought constitutional recognition for Lingayatism as a religion. “We have been demanding this for decades, but no government had the…