Senior Karnataka ministers, bureaucrats and heads of multiple mutts said to be among the estimated 300,000 who attended Lingayat rally in Kalaburgi on Sunday
Bengaluru: Karnataka mines and geology minister Vinay Kulkarni was on Sunday chosen national president of the Rashtriya Basava Sene, the newly formed youth wing of the Lingayat faction seeking to be recognized as a separate minority religion.
According to organizers, at least 300,000 people participated at a rally on Sunday in Kalaburgi, about 650km from Bengaluru. The rally included heads of multiple mutts, senior state ministers, bureaucrats and people from the region and neighbouring states.
Kulkarni will organize similar events, raise awareness within the community and carry out various activities to ensure the movement gains traction.
Kulkarni could not be reached for comment.
S.M. Jamdar, former bureaucrat and key member of the Lingayat Samanvaya Samiti—the group leading the agitation for a separate religious identity—said that the forum will have to ensure that the movement grows in other cities too.
The demand for a separate religion status and separation from the Veerashaivas, a sub-sect within the community, is at least a century old, with increased agitations and movements in the last four decades. The latest round is led by Karnataka water resources minister M.B. Patil.
The Siddaramaiah-led Congress government has—at least officially —tried not to involve itself in the issue, but Patil had openly led the breakaway faction, giving the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a target to attack.
“If Veerashaivas want an independent religion tag for their sect, we don’t have any problem. Let them try. But they are trying to associate with Lingayats and demand for a Veerashaiva-Lingayat religion, which we oppose. They should not take the Lingayat term," Patil was quoted as saying by The Hindu newspaper on Sunday.
The community is believed to be the single largest in Karnataka accounting for around 17% of the state’s population.
It remains unclear what the breakaway faction of Lingayats will be able to achieve before the 2018 assembly elections in terms of its demands, but the gathering momentum is likely to dent former chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa’s support base.
Though the Veerashaivas account for less than 5% of Lingayats, Yeddyurappa has given his backing to keep the community from breaking up.
The BJP has enjoyed the support of Lingayats and reached out to other dominant communities like the Vokkaligas and backward classes with any eye on the elections.
Jamdar said that they will continue their agitation in other cities like Vijayapura (formerly Bijapur), Hubli and Bengaluru. However, the faction is still not looking to take the agitation to the national capital anytime soon, Jamdar said.
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