Mumbai: The opposition Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in Maharashtra has demanded the status of religious minority and reservation for the Lingayat community in the state on the lines of a similar move by the Congress government in neighbouring Karnataka. Dhananjay Munde, senior NCP leader and leader of the opposition in the state legislative council, made this demand in the council on Tuesday. The NCP is also a vocal supporter of reservations for the Maratha caste in Maharashtra. Munde said the status of religious minority and quota should be given without disturbing the constitutionally-guaranteed provisions for the other minorities.

On 19 March, the Karnataka government decided to accept an expert panel’s report granting the status of religious minority and quota to the Lingayat and Veerashaiva communities. The Congress government in Karnataka decided to issue an official notification to this effect and sent the proposal to the Centre.

Coming ahead of the assembly elections in Karnataka in May, the move is widely seen as the Siddaramaiah government’s populist sop to the Lingayats and Veerashaivas who account for a sizeable chunk of voters in nearly 100 of 224 assembly constituencies in Karnataka. The Election Commission of India on Tuesday announced elections in Karnataka on 12 May.

Munde pointed out that a large number of Lingayat community members lived in Maharashtra. “Thousands of Lingayat community people have taken out rallies in places like Latur, Sangli, Kolhapur, and Yavatmal demanding the status of religious minority and reservation. The Karnataka government has ensured that while granting the religious minority status to Lingayats, they do not touch the similar constitutional status guaranteed to the Muslim, Christian, Jain, Buddhist, and Sikh minorities. A similar proposal should be made in Maharashtra," Munde demanded.

The NCP leader, who belongs to the OBC category, pointed out that the previous Congress-NCP government in the state had formed a three-member experts panel to study the demand and that the panel had submitted its proposal favouring the demand to the state commission for the minorities. “In August 2014, the BJP promised the Lingayat community that it would accept the demand if it came to power. What has happened to that promise," Munde sought to know.