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In Karnataka, where Lingayats are at the core this elections

Seers of various Lingayat mutts address a press conference in Bengaluru on April 7, 2018.   | Photo Credit: The Hindu

A small town in the border district of Bidar in north-east Karnataka is where the movement for the separate religion status for the Lingayat community first began. Basava Kalyan is the home town of the 12th century reformer saint-poet Basavanna or Basaveshwara. It was called Kalyan till 1965, when the prefix Basava was added as a tribute to the reformer.

Why is it in the news?

It was the epicentre of the socio-cultural reform movement, led by Basavanna, who propounded the Lingayat faith. His followers are called Lingayats. Following a Statewide movement by Lingayats, the government approved a request for considering Lingayatism as a distinct religion and recommended it for minority status. The State has sent the proposal to the BJP-led government at the Centre, which is yet to spell out its stand.

In Karnataka, where Lingayats are at the core this elections

Some see this as the first step towards the victory for a centuries-old movement. However, with the impending elections, observers feel it is a political game by the Congress government to divide the Lingayats who has been the BJP’s core votebank for decades in the State.

What are the key issues?

Basava Kalyan is listed among the most backward taluks in Karnataka, as per the High-power Committee for Redressal of Regional Imbalances, headed by D.M. Nanjundappa. Erratic rainfall, non irrigated farmland and low levels of industrialisation have kept it backward. The Lingayats may not form more than 20% of the population, but Basavanna is revered by all. Politically, the town is divided. Mate Mahadevi, who is heading the movement for a separate religion, has a large following here. She runs a convent for female monks and organises the Kalyan Parva festival once a year.

Are they for separate religion?

A large section of the community is elated. “The BJP leadership may be undecided about separate religion status for Lingayatism, but BJP followers want it badly,” says Basavraj Dhannur, a member of the committee that held rallies demanding the separate religion status across north Karnataka , Telangana and Maharashtra. He points out that just as Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has agreed to the demand in 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have to give his nod in 2019. Basava Kalyan has been at the centre of the separate religion movement since the 1980s. Though the movement began here, it spread to the whole of Karnataka and even to Maharashtra and Telangana.

Who was Basavanna?

The saint-poet led a movement against caste, class and gender barriers. Research by the late M.M. Kalburgi shows he lived between 1130 and 1170 AD. Basavanna served as the head of the state exchequer in the palace of Kalachuri Immadi Bijjala, a feudatory of the Chalukyan Kings. Bijjala declared independence later. Basavanna was raised in Kudala Sangama, but joined the state treasury in Basava Kalyan, capital of the Kalachuri kingdom.

He was born a Brahmin but rebelled and advocated his own ideology based on the principles of equality and fraternity, dignity of labour, creation and distribution of wealth. He inspired about 770 professionals from various vocations to become writers and thinkers, according to scholars. They all came to be called Sharanas (those who believed in his ideology) and their poems are called Vachanas (sayings). Only around 30,000 Vachanas written by around 250 men and women are available now.

What do elections mean?

With the Congress conceding the demand for the separate religion status, it has challenged the notion that former Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa is the unquestioned leader of Lingayats. The movement has thrown up Lingayat leaders in the Congress like M.B. Patil and in the JD (S) like Basavraj Horatti. The Lingayat vote is likely to be split. While many Lingayats may still back the BJP, voting will not be as tight as in earlier elections, observers say. The younger, educated Lingayats are expected to swing to the Congress.

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Printable version | May 8, 2021 11:14:01 PM |

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