After mobs in Bengaluru provoked by a social media post about Prophet Muhammad attacked the house of a Congress legislator and set fire to a police station on Tuesday ninght, the Bharatiya Janata Party stuck to its old script. The familiar plot points cropped up in social media posts by the Karnataka BJP and IT cell manager Amit Malviya: “peace loving Hindus” versus “violent Muslim mobs”, Congress and its Muslim appeasement, a conspiracy of “anti-national” leftwing and Muslim parties against the majority and, of course, Tipu Sultan. The Congress was so anxious to appease, the BJP alleged, that it even abandoned the Dalit legislator who was attacked.
Only a few lonely voices, such as SM Krishna, who switched to the BJP after a long career in the Congress, stressed on Bangalore’s character as a diverse city and the need to maintain law and order. As the ruling party in Karnataka, that should be the BJP’s main focus – to calm tempers, maintain communal harmony and ensure a fair investigation to ensure that the vandals are booked. This should not be another occasion to launch a political witch hunt, to pit communities against each other or score points against the Opposition.
The party has a chequered record on that front in Karnataka. In 2017, for instance, BJP member of Parliament Shobha Karandlaje wrote a letter to the Union home minister alleging a “blood bath in Karnataka”, where “Hindu activists” or “BJP/RSS” workers were being targeted by “jihadist elements” and groups such as the Popular Front of India. These claims, as this investigative series by Scroll.in found, were largely untrue. In many places, there had been no communal element at all.
When episodes of communal violence have occurred in Karnataka, Dalits and Muslims often accused the police of tacitly backing Hindutva groups. When protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act broke out in December, the Karnataka police was quick to file first information reports against persons who were “unknown” but presumed to be Muslim. According to a survey conducted last year, the Karnataka police topped the list when it came to members of the force believing Muslims and Scheduled Castes were prone to committing crime.
While Hindu rightwing groups have been quick to characterise this week’s Bengaluru violence as communal, the reality may be more complicated. The mother of the man held responsible for the social media post that triggered violence said she was saved from the mob by local Muslim youth. Some reports suggest an intimate turf war between the BJP, the Congress and the Social Democratic Party of India. While the investigation has barely started, the BJP state government is already mulling a ban on the Social Democratic Party of India and the Popular Front of India.
But if mobs were able to go on a rampage in Bangalore this week, it is also a failure of policing and of the ruling party. Will the BJP government take accountability and ensure a sober, rigorous investigation? It is to be hoped the party is better than its own record.