- Lingayat is an influential community largely seen as loyal to BJP
- The community makes up about 17% of Karnataka's population
- BJP's chief ministerial face, BS Yeddyurappa, is also a Lingayat
A cabinet meeting headed by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah on Monday, after hours of discussion, decided to accept the report of a committee headed by a retired high court judge.
The politically dominant Lingayat community that makes up about 17 per cent of the state population is seen as loyal to the BJP.
The BJP's biggest leader in the state and the party's chief ministerial face, BS Yeddyurappa, is also a Lingayat.
"Today the cabinet has considered that Lingayats and Veerashaivas who accept Basaveshwara as defined by the expert committee to be considered as a religion. They have further recommended to the government of India to recognise this," Minister MP Patil, a Lingayat himself, told reporters.
Lingayats, who pray to lord Shiva, are followers of the 12th century poet-philosopher-social reformer Basaveshwara who rebelled against established Hindu traditions by defying the caste system and vedic rituals.
If Lingayats get the religious minority tag, they could get educational benefits and that could extend to educational institutions run by them.
The BJP that is hoping to wrest the only state in the south it once ruled has hit out at the Congress government, calling it a divisive move.
"If there is an Oscar for hypocrisy it must go to @RahulGandhi. He waxed eloquent yesterday on unity, love & fraternity between all Today his virulent CM @siddaramaiah recommended dividing followers of Basavanna into separate 'minority religion' - something unheard of in the past," the Karnataka BJP tweeted.
Lingayats themselves are divided on the move; many within the community feel the facility should not be extended to Veerashaivas who they claim are part of a Shaiva sect that belongs to Hinduism.
A scuffle broke out in north Karnataka's Kalaburgi between those favouring and opposing the state government's move.