The Karnataka State Minorities Commission has formed a seven-member panel to study the demand of the Lingayat community for a separate minority religion status, The Indian Express reported on Sunday. Headed by retired High Court judge HN Nagamohan Das, the panel has to submit a report within four weeks.

Some of the other members of the committee are Kannada Development Authority chairperson SG Siddaramaiah, lecturer Ramakrishna Marathe, and head of Kannada Language Chair at Jawaharlal Nehru University Purushotham Bilimane. “The report of the expert committee shall be placed before the commission for consideration and for making suitable recommendations to the government,” read the order issued on Friday, according to The New Indian Express.

Lingayats, who are classified as Other Backward Classes, are considered the single-largest community in the state, with their population estimated at anywhere between 11.5% and 19%. Since their vote is widely believed to be decisive in 110 out of the 224 Assembly constituencies, Lingayats are also considered politically powerful.

“The probability of Lingayats being declared as minorities before the Assembly polls is quite high,” The Times of India quoted an unidentified government person as saying. Karnataka is likely to go to polls in 2018.

The move has irked the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been enjoying the community’s support in the recent years. Party president Amit Shah had earlier said that the demand of a minority religion status separate from Hinduism was a political game played by the Congress. Former minister and BJP MP from Chikkamagaluru-Udupi Shobha Karandlaje also accused Chief Minister Siddaramaiah of dividing the Lingayat for political gains. “The chief minister has humiliated the community; the move will backfire and destroy him,” she said, according to The Times of India.

In November, the Lingayat Mahasabha had asked the Karnataka government to write to the Centre by December 30 to recommend a minority status for the community. The community wants to be recognised as a religion separate from Hinduism.

In July, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah had said that he would forward the demand for minority religion status to the Centre if the community was unanimous in its demand. The community has been divided over the separate religion status, as the Veerasaiva group associates itself with Hinduism.