The Big Story: Tinderbox
Officials in Karnataka’s Mangaluru imposed prohibitory orders for the next two weeks starting Sunday, making it illegal for crowds to gather in public in the coastal city that has frequently been the site of communal tensions. The orders for Mangaluru come even as prohibitory orders hit the 50-day mark in the taluk of Bantwal, as well as several other taluks, all in the district of Dakshina Kannada. The ostensible reason for Section 144, which prevents unlawful assemblies of more than four people in public, to be imposed are the recent clashes between communities that have flared up and even led to several deaths over the last few months.
The cycle began with the alleged stabbing of a Muslim youth on May 26, which led to clashes and prompted prohibitory orders to first be imposed in Bantwal. On June 21, 35-year-old Ashraf Kalai, an auto-rickshaw driver and activist for the Social Democratic Party of India, was dragged out of his vehicle and hacked to death by six people. A few weeks later, on July 4, Sharath Madivala, a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh worker, was stabbed by unidentified assailants and died from his injuries three days later.
Each of these incidents has led to communal clashes, with the most recent being the huge gathering of RSS and other right-wing workers at the funeral for Madivala on July 8, which quickly became tense after the crowds were pelted with stones and bottles along their procession.
Politicians from both sides have meanwhile done little to calm the situation. Bharatiya Janata Party’s M Yeddyurappa promised that “fire would engulf the whole state” if an RSS leader was arrested in connection with the murder cases. This came after a video of district in-charge Minister B Ramanath Rai ordering the Superintendent of Police to arrest the same RSS leader went viral.
Dakshina Kannada is no stranger to communal tensions. Whether in Mangaluru or Bantwal, the district has been the site of numerous clashes and other forms of communal violence in the recent past. The current uptick however is more than likely to be connected to upcoming elections, due in the state next year. The Congress-run government accuses the BJP and the RSS of trying to polarise the area, as it did in Uttar Pradesh, while leaders from those organisations insist the Congress is simply protecting Muslims and not taking action against violent elements.
Amidst all this is a failure of policing. Nearly two months of prohibitory orders in Bantwal have not led to any appreciable improvement in the situation, with the government now being forced to extend the orders to Mangaluru as well. Previous cases of communal tension have not been resolved, and in many cases those allegedly responsible have not been prosecuted. “Such inaction will make communal elements confident that they can walk free despite indulging in communal clashes,” Jayanth V Shetty, retired Superintendent of Police (Intelligence) told the Deccan Chronicle.
With elections approaching, it is likely that things will only get worse. The RSS’ agenda is to polarise the community and sell the idea of a Congress that only cares about Muslims without bothering about Hindu sentiments. Congress leaders too easily fall into this narrative, mobilising their own support bases to fight back, even as the situation deteriorates.
Chief Minister Siddaramaih attempted to take a different tack on Sunday, telling reporters that “I’m also a Hindu. What is my name? It is Sidda-Rama. I’m also 100% Hindu,” and insisting that BJP workers do not speak for all Hindus and were instead simply pushing a Hindutva agenda. But while that may be important politicking for him, it does not engage with the law-and-order failures under his government in the district. Siddaramaiah’s first priority must be to ensure there is no violence, and it is incumbent on the BJP to follow suit. Janata Dal (Secular) chief HD Kumaraswamy has called on both parties to join a peace march, led by former Prime Minister Deve Gowda. Leaders on both sides need to listen and take advantage of such opportunities if they genuinely want to prevent more bloodshed with elections still some time away.
The Big Scroll
- In Coastal Karnataka, as assembly polls approach, a spate of political killings deepens tensions, reports TA Ameerudheen.
- Ameerudheen also narrates the story of why the family of a murdered RSS worker thanked a devout Muslim in Karnataka.
- Social media posts fan communal tensions already running high in coastal Karnataka, writes Sruthisagar Yamunan.
- Samar Halankar explains what a BJP MP’s remark about a Karnataka leader and his Muslim wife really tells us.
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