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Lingayats get a reminder: it’s poll time

Whatever happened to the ‘war’ that the Lingayats had threatened to launch after a big rally in Bidar, north Karnataka, on 20 July? More than a dozen swamijis of different Lingayat mutts, including one from Hyderabad and another from Delhi, had participated in the rally which demanded the status of a religion for them and the attendant benefits flowing from the tag of ‘minority’. With elections to the state assembly due next summer, Congress chief minister Siddharamiah decided to strike where it could hurt most: at the BJP’s chief minister-in-waiting 

B S Yeddyurappa, who is a Lingayat. Siddharamiah told the Lingayats, who constitute about a fifth of the state’s population and are a dominant community that his government would support their claim that they are not part of the Hindu religion and recommend to the Centre to grant them the status of a minority community. In a few days, even as Yeddyurappa and other BJP leaders were shouting foul play by the Congress, the so-called offer was picked up and community leaders started agitating for the separate status. The Bidar rally was apparently a huge show and the mutt heads who had assembled there vowed to continue their agitation till the demand was met. For nearly a month there was silence, apparently as both sides played a waiting game and on  22 August  there was a show of strength led by the mutts from which the BJP kept off.

What prompted the Congress move? It is of course desperate to retain the only stronghold it has in the south. It knows that the Lingayats are a powerful vote bank of the BJP which came to power for the first time in 2008 mainly with their backing in key pockets of the state.  The Congress plan was perhaps to dent the support base by trying to wean at least a section of the Lingayat community. Will they be tempted by the benefits that a minority tag can bring, such as reservation in education and jobs? Nobody is certain that the majority of the Lingayats favour separation. Followers of the 12th century reformer Basavanna or Basavesvara who rejected caste divisions, they will learn in the coming weeks that the Congress may be in no position to keep its promise, whatever the outcome of the coming assembly elections. 

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