Thirty senior Lingayat religious leaders on Saturday endorsed Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and the Congress ahead of the upcoming elections, The Economic Times reported. Elections for the 224-member state Assembly will take place on May 12, and results will be announced on May 15.

The meeting was chaired by “Maate” Mahadevi, the first female Lingayat seer. She urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to grant the separate religion status to the Lingayats by April 18, News18 reported.

“Siddaramaiah has supported our demand, we will support him,” said Mahadevi, who wields a lot of clout in North Karnataka.

Mahadevi also asked Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah to refrain from commenting on religion. Shah told Veerashaiva leaders in the state’s Badami town on April 4 that his party would not allow the use of religion for politics. “We will not allow the division of Veerashaiva-Lingayat communities,” The News Minute had quoted him as saying.

Jai Mrutyunjaya, the leader of the mutt at Kudalasangama, an important Lingayat pilgrimage centre located in Bagalkote district, said: “Who is Amit Shah to make this statement about not dividing Veerashaivas and Lingayats?”

At an election rally on March 26, Shah accused the Karnataka government of granting the status of a separate religion to the Lingayat community to prevent state BJP leader BS Yeddyurappa from becoming the chief minister. Yeddyurappa, a Lingayat strongman, has also called the Siddaramaiah government’s move an “election gimmick” and accused it of dividing society.

The Veerashaiva community also opposed the Karnataka government’s decision and said the status should have been granted to the entire Veerashaiva-Lingayat community, not just the followers of Basavanna’s philosophy. Basavanna was a 12th-century Lingayat philosopher, poet and social reformer.