Karnataka: Lingayats assert non-Hindu cred; language row back
The Lingayats are a politically prominent community accounting for nearly 17 per cent of the state’s population, and seen as a dependable vote bank for the BJP
Quest for separate identity
Ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the revival of the demand for a separate religious identity for the Veerashaiva Lingayat community has set off ripples in Karnataka political circles. The 24th annual convention of the All India Veerashaiva Mahasabha (AIVM), held at Davangere, has resolved to be independent of Hindu identity and has pushed for separate religious status.
The Mahasabha asked its community members not to describe themselves as Hindu in the forthcoming population census or caste census. This decision was taken among the eight resolutions adopted by delegates at the convention.
"All community members are advised not to use the term “Hindu” to describe their religious identity in the next census. They should shun names of sub-castes. They should only use the terms Veerashaiva or Lingayat to describe themselves. This is for the good of society and to tell the world about the specific numbers of our community," stated the resolution.
Veerashaivism, a 12th-century reformist movement spearheaded by poet-saint Basaveshwara, symbolised dissent and challenged the established Brahmanical order. It espoused the cause of removing inequalities in the Hindu social order by establishing a new egalitarian religious sect of worship-ping Shiva. While it rejected most of the broad Hindu traditions, it also assimilated several aspects, making the demand for a separate religious status a rather complicated affair.
The followers of this stream, the Lingayats, are a politically and socially prominent community, accounting for nearly 17 per cent of the state’s population. For a long time, they were seen as a dependable vote bank for the BJP.
The issue poses a complex set of challenges. If Lingayats are accorded a separate religious status, the BJP’s ideological aim of uniting all communities under the monolith of Hinduism will suffered a setback. Ironically, former chief minister Yediyurappa’s daughter Aruna Udayakumar is one of the office-bearers of the Mahasabha.
In 2018, when the then Congress government led by Siddaramaiah had recommended the Centre accord a separate ‘minority religion’ tag to the Veerashaiva Lingayat community, the state BJP leaders and several pontiffs from the community had vehemently opposed it. The NDA government had rejected the recommendation outright.
Love for one’s language is fine but resorting to vandalism in its name is reprehensible. Bengaluru’s reputation as a liberal, peaceful cosmopolitan city took a beating when the activists of Karnataka Rakshana Vedike went berserk, vandalising English signboards of business establishments and damaging properties. All in the name of protecting the Kannada language.
This despite the government’s unequivocal assurance of the primacy of Kannada usage. Chief minister Siddaramaiah announced that his government would introduce an ordinance to ensure that 60 per cent of space on signboards and name plates be dedicated to Kannada, with the rest left over for any other language. During his previous tenure as CM, a circular had been issued in March 2018 to enforce a 60:40 ratio for signboards and name plates.
The ordinance will come into effect on 28 February 2024. Moreover, an amendment will also be introduced to section 17(6) of the Kannada Language Comprehensive Development Act (KLCDA), which was promulgated by the previous BJP government in March 2023. This section mandated commercial establishments to allocate 50 per cent of space on signboards and name plates to information in Kannada. The Congress government is upping this to 60 per cent.
Language has always been an emotive issue in Karnataka, triggering widespread protests in the past. The latest bout of vandalism has rekindled the language debate and underscored the friction between competing needs to preserve local culture and accommodate diversity in an increasingly globalised world, of which Bengaluru is an abiding symbol.
The state industries minister M.B. Patil was right when he voiced concerns that such incidents could adversely impact Karnataka’s competitiveness in attracting investments. He has appealed to pro-Kannada activists not to take the law into their hands.
Trouble in saffron camp
BJP leaders in Karnataka are back to doing what they are best at: infighting. Since the formation of the new party committee, packed with supporters of former chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa and his son and state president B.Y. Vijayendra, rebellion has been brewing in the saffron party with several seniors sulking over the composition of the team.
The reasons for the growing dissension are not far to seek. At least 25 of the 32 office-bearers are either supporters of Yediyurappa or Vijayendra. Six vice-presidents and three general secretaries, loyal to Yediyurappa, have been accommodated in the committee. All with the blessings of the high command. The buzz in the political circles is that the supporters of the father-son duo are dreaming of making Vijayendra the next chief minister.
What began as a whisper campaign against the state leadership is now rapidly turning into a more vociferous and bitter one. A glimpse of the ugly bickering was provided by senior leader and former union minister Basanagouda Patil Yatnal who made the sensational allegation that Rs 40,000 crore was misappropriated at the height of the pandemic, when Yediyurappa was chief minister.
The dissident leader warned that he would expose the role of his bête noire in this scam if expelled from the party. He even compared BSY, as Yediyurappa is popularly known, to the wicked and cunning character of Shakuni from the Mahabharata, and described the state office-bearers’ list prepared by Vijayendra as ‘KJP-2’, a reference to the Karnataka Janata Party (KJP) founded by BSY in 2012, after resigning as MLA and chief whip of the BJP.
Yatnal, a long-time critic of BSY, has turned more aggressive ever since BSY’s son was made the state BJP president and his loyalist R. Ashoka the leader of opposition in the Assembly. Yatnal is furious that BSY’s baton has been handed over to his son despite the BJP’s public claims of fighting dynasty politics tooth and nail.
The ‘Covid scam’ allegations have come as a major embarrassment for the BJP at a time when it strategising for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. In the midst of the furore, leaders like V. Somanna, a former minister who is said to be upset with the raw treatment meted out to him by the party, is gravitating towards the Congress.
The honeymoon is over
Bengaluru is India’s answer to Silicon Valley. Over the years, the city has emerged as the country’s leading IT hub, largely due to the concessions enjoyed by the industry. Karnataka is the only state in the country to have exempted IT/ ITeS (information technology/ information technology-enabled services) industries from the provisions of the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946. The exemption, which has been in force since 2014, is set to expire in May this year.
Following a plethora of complaints about unfair work practices, the Congress government is thinking of revoking the exemption. Complaints of arbitrary termination, ID blocking, mass retrenchment, layoffs and extended working hours, as well as sexual harassment at the workplace, are being cited as grounds for revisiting the relaxation.
According to official data, there are nearly 18 lakh professionals employed across 8,785 information technology and biotechnology firms in Karnataka. Following Covid-19, the state labour department witnessed a surge in complaints from tech professionals alleging unfair trade practices.
The department is in the process of examining the complaints and will call a stakeholders’ meeting soon to decide on revoking the exemption, said local media reports, quoting the principal secretary of the labour department, Mohammed Mohsin.
Recognising them as sunrise industries, the exemption from labour regulations was granted to IT/ ITeS, business process outsourcing and knowledge process outsourcing firms, in order to accelerate their growth. It worked, with the sector seeing phenomenal growth, contributing a major chunk to the nation’s exports.
Industry experts contend that discontinuing the exemption would adversely impact the sector and ‘ease of doing business’ ranking. However, the Karnataka State IT/ ITeS Employees Union has opposed any further extension.