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The Daily Fix: Communal tensions in coastal Karnataka are a failure of leadership and policing

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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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Punditry

  1. “Do rudimentary courtesy to the public at a police station, registration of an FIR when a complaint is received, and acting against harassment of women in public spaces all need political direction?” Not at all, says RK Raghavan in the Hindu.
  2. Can Hindutva politics deliver economic growth? Roshan Kishore in Mint looks at research on other parts of the world which concludes that if the political elite derives its legitimacy from the religious elite, it is unlikely to see economic progress.
  3. Make transparency a patriotic duty, writes Venkatesh Nayak in the Indian Express, arguing that it is not enough for governments to simply expect applause for policies without making citizens privy to the processes behind them.
  4. “Once an in-house bureaucratic process is set in motion, it will become a precedent for all time and may well be cited and manipulated by future governments at the Centre and the states to plant people regardless of their worth,” writes Shailaja Chandra in the Hindustan Times, opposing the idea of lateral entry into the civil services.
  5. Not all Indian languages come from Sanskrit and there are more branches beyond the Indo-European and Dravidian ones, says Karthik Venkatesh in Mint, mapping out the large family tree that makes up India’s languages.

Giggle

Don’t miss

Ipsita Chakravarty and Rayan Naqash examine the ideological contours of Kashmir’s militancy one year after the death of Burhan Wani.

“There are 18 million Kashmiris shouting for a political settlement and the Centre hears only one voice,” said Junaid Mattu, spokesperson for the National Conference, referring to Musa’s statements. “Most militants take up arms for political reasons, then it becomes other things. The main cause of radicalisation is New Delhi.”

The term that is repeated again and again in these Srinagar circles is “political radicalisation”, a hardening of positions that mirrors the hardening at the Centre, the rise of Hindutva in the rest of the country and growing support for militant nationalism. The police officer in Srinagar speaks of the Army chief’s award to Major Leetul Gogoi, the soldier responsible for tying up Farooq Ahmad Dar to an army jeep in Budgam district and using him as a “human shield”, the attacks on Kashmiri students on campuses outside the Valley, the lack of political engagement between the government and the separatists.

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