One day, I was travelling in a double decker bus and was seated in the front seat, just above the driver. There was a person sitting on the footpath with his dog. He suddenly sprinkled some grain before the bus. A pigeon flew towards the grain only to be crushed by the bus. I still remember the cracking bones even after all these years. That fellow nonchalantly picked the dead pigeon to feed his dog after the bus left. When I read about the separate religion for Lingayats, the first thought I had was that of that poor pigeon. It’s the bribery Lingayats are offered before throwing them under a bus.
Now, coming to the crux of the debate. What is Lingayatism? In two words, it’s a form of Siva worship, where worship is done to Nirakara Siva as Ishta Linga which they wear. They follow the teachings of Basavanna and Sharanas who rejected the scriptures and scorned idol worship in favour of Nirakara Siva. The fundamental difference between Lingayats and other sects of Siva worship is just this thing – rejection of scriptures and idol worship, an indication that it’s a religion tuned for the masses – rather than going for the scriptures and elaborate rituals of idol worship, follow the simply understandable Vachanas written by the elders of Lingayat cult and pray to your personal Siva Linga.
This has turned out to be a double edged sword in the current polarised environment – is it a sect tuned for the uneducated masses or is it a rebel strain of Hinduism, and should be treated as a new religion?
The way Lingayats co-existed with other Veerasaiva sects, it is but obvious that Basava and the Saranas simplified Hinduism to be more practical for the masses and not rejected Hinduism per se.
Now, what exactly will the Lingayats gain if they get a new religion beyond an exotic tag, practitioners of Lingayat religion? Literally nothing. They will be classified as a minority, but note, they are no more a minority than Parsis or Jains who don’t have any special benefits whatsoever. They will be under the ambit of RTE exception, but that is only for a handful of Lingayats who run schools. Lingayats are OBCs and SCs. Once they are out of Hinduism, number of jobs available under these quotas will increase. They will demand a separate minority reservation, which a party like Congress, which knowing it is impossible, will still accept it, just to make the life of their successor a mess, alienating Lingayats permanently as a vote bank. Other castes will get more jobs and Lingayats will be thrown under the truck for a while.
Besides that, Lingayat reservation will fail in courts – Ramakrishnaism is a precedent for that. But, by then, Lingayats will lose everything. Veerashaivas will see to that Lingayats won’t get jobs as Hindus; rioting between VeeraSaivas and Lingayats has already started, in two words, the fault lines created will be massive. And then, will they prefer to co-exist or will they act belligerently like the Ambedkarite Buddhists, creating a simmering permanent undercurrent?
Who is to benefit out of this? Congress which wants to win the elections. For that, it needs to break the vote bank of BJP. Looking at Yedyurappa’s tweet, it is but obvious the party is trapped. If it supports, it alienates the Veera Saivas, if it opposes, it will alienate the Lingayats.
BJP will abide the decision taken by Akhila Bharata Veerashaiva Mahasabha. He’s requesting them to call for an immediate meeting, hold discussions with scholars and intellectuals with respect to the recommendation made by the state government.
And BJP is obviously angry.
Now, coming to the conspiracy theories. This is a Christian game of Breaking India forces. The debate of a separate religion for Lingayats is started by a christian missionary Channappa Uttangi and parallels are drawn with the way Sikhism is weaned out of Hinduism. It’s upto you to decide what’s the truth in that.
But, whatever the case, this is going to create further demands for fragmenting of Hinduism for vote bank politics, unnecessary and unwanted social tensions. Every party with interests in a better India should introspect sincerely if these fault lines are worth a few votes.