The attempt to divide Hindu voters by giving separate religion status to the Lingayats backfired severely for the Congress in Karnataka. The Lingayat community which has a sizeable presence in Karnataka rejected outright the ploy of Congress to divide and lure their community by offering them special privileges. The Congress and its allies though do not seem to have learnt from the mistakes they made in the southern state and are willing to play the same game in Maharashtra too. The election results of Sangli and Jalgaon municipal elections suggest that the move is backfiring for them in Maharashtra as well. The loss of Sangli especially which had been a Congress stronghold is a clear message to the Congress and its allies that the Maratha reservation and Lingayat separate community card it tried to play is failing badly. The win in Sangli was a clear message of the Marathas standing in solidarity with Devendra Fadnavis and his development and growth oriented politics.
There is nothing surprising about the sudden demands coming from the Lingayat community of Maharashtra for a separate religion tag and for being recognised as minorities. With the election season fast approaching the opposition have decided to once again try to unsettle the Devendra Fadnavis led Bharatiya Janata Party government in Maharashtra. There is definitely something fishy about the way in which the Marathas, Dhangars, Muslims and Lingayats have at a single time decided to raise their demands for special privileges in a span of less than a month.
Talking about the sudden surge in Lingayat demands from the Maharashtra government, Avinash Bhosikar, national convenor of the Lingayat Samanvay Samiti said, “We will decide the course of action on August 11, at Parli in Beed. Lingayats must be given the status of a separate religion and recognised as minorities. This agitation will cover three states — Maharashtra, Telangana, and Karnataka,” Bhosikar went on to add, “Our historic records, philosophy and the fact that we are avaidik (not adhering to the Vedas) prove we are a separate religion. The British too documented us as a separate religion. The Justice Nagamohan Das committee, which submitted its report to the Karnataka government, has evidence on this,”. In the end though Bhosikar accepted the fact that they were “culturally Hindus”, a fact which removes all doubts over how politically driven agitations are going to be. The Lingayat Samanvay Samiti is a combination of 48 small groups which come together to raise their demands.
Some other groups like the Akhil Bharatiya Veershaiv Yuvak Sanghatana (Shiva) which are again from the Lingayat community have however opposed such demands. Manohar Dhonde of the ABVYS(S) said that the demands of separate religion tag had been dwindling in the community. The group instead wants to urge the government to add Veerashaiva Lingayat sub-castes to be included in categories such as OBC, NT, and SBC for quota benefits. “Our struggle ensured 21 sub-castes were included in the OBC category from 2004 to 2014. We are demanding that 32 more be covered under OBC, NT and SBC”, Dhonde said explaining his demands.
The Lingayat community in Maharashtra is significantly lower than that of its neighbouring state Karnataka. Approximately a crore of the Lingayat population resides in Maharashtra with member of the community being present in Solapur, Nanded, Sangli, Kolhapur, Latur, Beed and parts of Vidarbha regions. The Lingayats are not a decisive factor like they had been in Karnataka. Devendra Fadnavis and the BJP government should not be worried too much with the ongoing demands as the people of the state have risen above the petty divide and rule politics of the Congress and its allies. This is just another gimmick to stop the progress being done under the BJP government and it will surely die an early death prior to the elections. The Lingayat or the Maratha card should not trouble the incumbent government as the people of state have realized the cheap tricks of the opposition.