Call it genius or a masterstroke by the Congress, but Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has begun to give the BJP, especially its Lingayat strongman B S Yeddyurappa, sleepless nights, with his latest move.

By endorsing the demand of a certain section of the Lingayat community for being declared as a separate religion, Siddaramaiah is aiming at causing a dent in BJP’s vote bank.     

As the Lingayat community is BJP’s largest electoral constituency in Karnataka, the community reviving its demand for being delinked from Hinduism, has come a major blow to the BJP and in particular Yeddyurappa, who is nursing ambitions of becoming the State’s chief minister for the third time.

Little wonder that the BJP leader has come out so strongly in opposition to the very proposal. On Sunday, Yeddyurappa said that only the Akhila Bharatha Veerashaiva Mahasabha can take a final call on determining Lingayat community as a separate religion.

Though the demand by the community is long standing, Siddaramaiah is the first chief minister to have actually condoned it, thereby giving the community hopes of a earning a minority religious tag.    

Siddaramaiah has in fact received a shot in the arm with his Lingayat ministerial colleagues standing by his side. A day after Yeddyurappa accused Siddaramaiah of indulging in vote bank politics, Higher Education Minister Basavaraj Rayareddy hit back at the BJP leader, saying that the latter was “ignorant” of the Lingayat school of thought.

Defending Siddaramaiah, he said that the Chief Minister was merely endorsing the demand of the community, and trying to split it. Stating that Siddaramaiah was not indulging in divisive politics, Rayareddy said that Lingayat ministers and leaders in the Congress, including Eshwar Khandre and Sharan Prakash Patil would in fact hold deliberations with all the Lingayat/Veerashaiva religious heads and furnish a report on the prevailing scenario.

He also said that the minority status would accord several benefits to the community, which was being deprived of the same presently.

It all started with thousands of Lingayats gathering at Bidar on July 19 under the aegis of Lingayat Dharma Samanvaya Samithi, where various Lingayat religious heads declared that they do not want to be considered as a sub-sect of Hinduism anymore. 

Prominent among them was Mate Mahadevi, head of the Basava Dharma Peetha, who strongly contended that Veerashaivas and the Lingayats were two separate communities. She argued that the Veerashaivas were a sub-sect of the Shaiva philosophy of Hinduism, which followed the Vedic scriptures and practices. The Lingayats on the other hand were monotheists, only believing in the Linga, unlike the Hindus, who worshipped several gods and goddesses. As the Lingayats followed only Basavanna’s Vachanas, they should be declared as non-Hindus like the Buddhists, Jains or Sikhs.

Though there is no clarity on the exact numbers of Lingayats in the State, it is estimated that community’s population is around 12 per cent. So far, the BJP, which is known for its Hindutva politics, had taken the community for granted thinking. 

But if there were to be a split among the Veerashaivas (comprising of the Shaiva Brahmins) and Lingayats (comprising those who have converted from lower castes), Siddaramaiah, who has emerged as the Ahinda leader, would invariably gain an upper hand.  

Though Siddaramaiah is yet to write to the Centre proposing that the Lingayats be classified as a separate religion, the very idea of him doing so has given both the BJP and the RSS major jitters.