The city of Belagavi turned a sea of white and saffron on Tuesday when members of various Lingayat organisations and seers joined the mega rally demanding independent religion status for their community.
Religious and political leaders spoke to a large gathering, an estimated 2 lakh, at the district stadium near Lingaraj College for nearly four hours. They passed a one-line resolution seeking recognition to Lingayatism as a separate religion.
Interestingly, nearly all the speakers asked Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leader Mohan Bhagwat “not to interfere in matters of other religions”. They were responding to the reported statement of Mr. Bhagwat that Veerashaiva and Lingayat seers should convince the community leadership to drop the demand for a separate religion in order to strengthen Hinduism.
Basavaraj Horatti, JD(S) MLC who made the opening remarks, said: “Mr. Bhagwat is among the many leaders who are interfering in our affairs. We should tell them very clearly that they should let us handle our own affairs.” Seers, including Basava Jaya Mrutyunjaya Swami and Siddalinga Swami expressed concerns over right-wing leaders “trying to derail the movement”.
Basava Dharma Peetha seer Mathe Mahadevi questioned the silence of BJP leaders of the community on the issue of separate religion. “They should realise that their religion is Lingayatism and not BJP,” she said. She urged Mr. Bhagwat to help their cause rather than stop it. “He should use his influence with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to speed up the process,” she said. The demand was “non political” and Lingayats from all parties can join the cause, she added.
Later, the protesters marched to the Rani Channamma Circle where they handed over a memorandum to the State government to send a request for recognition as independent religious group under the requisite schedules of the Indian Constitution. It was decided that rallies will be held in Latur on September 3 and in Chitradurga on September 28. Rallies will be held in Kalaburagi in October and in Mysuru in November, organisers said.
While the gathering had seers from most mutts from north and central Karnataka, prominent among absentees were those from Suttur mutt in Mysuru, Moorusavir Mutt in Hubballi, Siddaganga Mutt in Tumakuru, and the Panchapeeta mutts.
Minister for Mines and Geology Vinay Kulkarni, MP Prakash Hukkeri, MLAs Ganesh Hukkeri, Ashok Pattan and Ashok Kheny, former MP S.B Sidnal, former MLC Veeranna Mattikatti, and Congress State women’s wing president Lakshmi Hebbalkar were present.