On 22 March, the Karnataka state government issued a notice granting minority status to the Lingayat community. Over the last few years, the issue of separate religion status for the Lingayats has seen intense debate, invoking issues related to history and religious doctrine, as well as politics. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has adopted a position consistent with its ideology, seeing it as a move that threatens Hinduism by fragmenting it. The RSS is duplicating arguments and rhetoric it has used to suggest that Sikhism is not a separate religion, a stance that has caused much acrimony and some violence in Punjab. In the long term, the RSS viewpoint holds the potential to stir similar trouble in Karnataka.
Last year on 20 August, the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat held a meeting of the organisation in the state’s Hubli district to discuss the demand for an independent status for the Lingayats. Bhagwat said that efforts should be made to reach out to Lingayat leaders to persuade them to give up the demand.
The reaction from the community was immediate. Two days later, at a massive rally of the Lingayats, Basavaraj Horatti, the JD(S) floor leader in the state’s legislative council and a prominent Lingayat leader, took on Bhagwat for “interfering in matters of the community.” “Why should leaders, like Mr. Bhagwat, poke his nose in our faith?” he said. Another prominent leader of the Lingayat campaign, the former bureaucrat SM Jamdar, said at a rally, “We have not been part of Hinduism all these years? What status do we get in Hinduism?”