In an embarrassment for the Congress, senior leader and Karnataka water resource minister DK Shivakumar has said that his party committed a "major blunder" by recommending religious minority status for the Lingayat community in the run-up to the May 12 assembly polls.
Seeking pardon from people, he said politics in the name of religion was unacceptable.
The previous Siddaramaiah government's gamble to play the Lingayat card with a religious minority tag turned out to be a costly misadventure electorally, leaving Congress poorer in terms of assembly seats.
The open admission gives a potential weapon to the opposition BJP to attack the Congress ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
The BJP had accused the previous Siddaramiah-led government of dividing society to draw political mileage.
Mr Shivakumar made the admission during the 'Dasara Sammelan', organised by the Rambhapuri Seer Veerasomeshwara Shivacharya Swamiat Gadag on Wednesday.
"Our government in Karnataka committed a major blunder. I wont say we did not commit it. We the people in politics and in government should never ever lay hands on the matter pertaining to religion and caste. It was a crime committed by our government," he said.
He even admitted that the Congress' poor show in the assembly election was proof that people did not like the move.
"I would like to say that the peoples verdict (assembly elections) is proof that no government should never ever lay hands in religious matter," Mr Shivakumar said.
"We beg your pardon for the blunder committed by our government. Please pardon us wholeheartedly....," he said.
Rambhapuri seer had opposed the move to accord religion status to Lingayat as it did not incorporate Veerashaivas in it.
Later, speaking in Bengaluru on Thursday, Mr Shivakumar said as a minister he felt he should express his views.
"I am not bothered about how people read it, react to it and what they call me. I felt I must speak my mind on this issue," Mr Shivakumar said.
He claimed that many senior Congress leaders had advised him that government should not interfere in the matter.
Shivakumar's statement has created a rift within Congress as another Congress heavyweight and former minister MB Patil, who was at the forefront of recommending religious status for the Lingayats, said he would raise the matter in the party forum.
"I don't know in what context he spoke. We will discuss the matter within the party forum," he said.
"There wasn't any loss in the election. Let him (Shivakumar) introspect. We have to analyse how much votes we garnered in Hassan, Mandya and Vokkaliga belt. There isn't any connection between Lingayat religion tag and Congress party," Mr Patil said.
The May 12 Karnataka assembly polls threw up a hung verdict with BJP emerging as the single largest party with 104 seats. Congress was next with 78 and JD(S) followed with 37.
The BSP has one MLA and two seats went to Independents.
Mr Shivakumar belongs to the Vokkaliga community.
Many seers have welcomed Mr Shivakumar's statement. Hailing Mr Shivakumar, Srishaila seer Channasiddarama Panditaradya Swamiji said the statement was an endorsement that politicians should not interfere in religious affairs.
Ahead of the assembly polls, the previous government notified the Lingayats and VeerashaivaLingayats as religious minority, but said it would come into effect after the central government's approval to the state government's recommendation on the issue.
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