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Pandit Rahul Gandhi's Shiv bhakti in Gujarat elections was in fact warm up exercise for Karnataka
No one has perhaps forgotten Congress' clarification on Rahul Gandhi's religion. According to Congress spokesperson Rahul Gandhi is not only a Hindu but a 'Janeudhari Hindu'.

Posters had been put up outside Congress headquarters in New Delhi with the prefix 'Pandit' appearing before Rahul Gandhi's name and congratulating him on being elected as the Congress president. Some posters even claimed that Rahul Gandhi was in fact a descendant of Lord Parshuram. Rahul Gandhi has himself acknowledged that he is a 'Shiv bhakt'.

'Janeudhari' or not, my argument is that Rahul Gandhi could still be a Hindu. However, whether he is also a pandit or a descendant of Lord Parshuram, it will take some time to research and find out. But the politics behind his claim of being a 'Shiv bhakt' is clearly visible.

Earlier, I had thought that his affirmation of being a 'Shiv bhakt' was linked with the Somanath temple controversy after his name appeared in temple register meant for non-Hindus. However, on shovelling through the veil, one would realise that the next Assembly elections are due in Karnataka, a state where this Shiv bhakti assertion could come in handy. Are you confused? Then read on...

A couple of months ago, Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah had raised the issue of separate religion status for the politically influential Lingayat community of Karnataka. In fact, Karnataka BJP president BS Yeddyurappa himself comes from Lingayat community which is considered as pro-BJP. To breach the stronghold of the BJP, Congress CM Siddaramaiah is allegedly trying to divide the community by supporting special status for the Lingayats.

Although Lingayatism is considered as a Hindu sect, some Lingayats are seeking legal recognition as being distinct from Hindus. Lingayats are devotees of Lord Shiva. This religious tradition was established by the 12th century philosopher and statesman Basava. Lyngayatism is also referred to as Veershaivism and Lingayats are also called Veerashaivas.

Although Basava was a Brahmin, he created a Shiva devotee community free of caste and gender discrimination. Instead of the sacred thread, he made all Lingayats wear the Ishtalinga or Lingam necklace which is a silver casket containing the lingam stone representing Lord Shiva. Although many Hindu traditions are followed by the community, but Lingayats don't believe in caste discrimination. It's very similar to Monotheism and that's why some sections of the community have started demanding that Lingayatism should legally be treated as a different religion.

Despite the demand for a separate religious identity, it's also true that Lingayats are devotees of Hindu God Shiva. Rahul Gandhi's shiv bhakti is well intended for drawing Lingayats towards the Congress. Lingayats mostly reside in north Karnataka and form around 17 per cent of the state's population, by far the largest community of Karnataka, followed by the Vokkaligas who comprise of almost 15 per cent of the population of Karnataka. HD Deve Gowda belongs to the Vokkaliga community, which is also politically influential.

So, I presume that Rahul Gandhi's claim of being a 'Shiv bhakt' must be a well thought out ploy to bring the influential Lingayat community into the congress' fold. However, there're some anomalies in this entire narrative. Karnataka CM Siddaramiah had commissioned a caste census in 2013 (the first since 1932) to determine the exact demographics of Karnataka. The idea behind this caste-based census was to determine the exact number of OBCs in Karnataka so that reservation could be increased from 50 per cent to 70 per cent.

Siddaramaiah himself comes from OBC background and has the backing of his community. According to leaked data (although the government of Karnataka has denied it), the Lingayat community's percentage has reduced to 9 per cent from 17 per cent and Vokkaliga community's from 15 per cent to 8 per cent. This has induced anger amongst the Lingayat and Vokkaliga communities who are now threatening of agitation.

Thus, there is contradiction in Siddaramaiah's strategy. On one hand he is backing the head of Siddaganga Mutt, the spiritual headquarter of Lingayats, over the demand for a separate religious identity and on the other hand, the caste census commissioned by him is showing reduction in the domination of Lingayats. It will be really interesting to watch how Rahul Gandhi's Shiv bhakti plays a role in annulling this contradiction.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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