EVER SINCE the BJP government in Karnataka started crumbling from within, following the unseating of BS Yeddyurappa from the chief minister’s post, the state has witnessed subtle attempts at raising the communal temperature.
In the past, the attempts were crude — like desecrating religious centres. On New Year’s Eve, a Pakistani flag was hoisted at Sindagi town in Bijapur district, leading to communal tension in this Muslim-populated area. When the flag was discovered in the morning, several Hindu organisations called for a bandh. A prayer hall belonging to the minority community was stoned. Five days later, the police arrested six alleged Sri Ram Sene members on charges of hoisting the flag to create communal tension. While Sene chief Pramod Muthalik has denied that the arrested men belong to his outfit, JD(S) chief HD Kumaraswamy pointed a finger at the BJP-RSS.
Whichever Hindutva group they belonged to, there seems little doubt that communal politics is becoming more Machiavellian. The flag could have been aimed at hinting at the supposed secret loyalty of Muslims to India’s arch-rival. In Mangalore, RSS leader Prabhakar Kalladkar has been openly giving vitriolic statements against the Christian community.
If Yeddyurappa breaks away from the BJP and forms his own party or joins another, the party is unsure of retaining the Lingayat votebank. With B Sriramulu also forming his own party, the loss of the backward class vote is also looming large. Communal tension could consolidate the Hindu votebank. Even former Bajrang Dal state president Mahendra Kumar says, “The hoisting points to the desperation to divide voters on communal lines. Since the BJP is politically dead in the state, it has resorted to its old strategy.”
Certainly, the silence maintained by the state government about the incident was eerie. In an earlier incident, Home Minister R Ashok had called a press conference and blamed the radical Muslim outfit Karnataka Forum for Dignity. This time, he did not issue any statement. Nor did any senior BJP minister, including Industries and district in-charge minister Murugesh Nirani visit the place, giving room for more suspicion. As Congress MPH Vishwanath puts it, “What is the government doing? Stringent action should be taken against the accused. If the act was done by Muslims, the government would have made it an issue.”
In spite of a string of violent attacks on innocent people, the Sene continues to operate in Karnataka with impunity. On 17 December 2011, Muthalik and Sene activists went on a rampage at the Bangalore Central College and attacked Niranjan BR, director, directorate of correspondence courses and distance education, for the delay in conducting exams.
Muthalik shot to fame during the infamous pub incident in Mangalore on 24 January 2009, when 40 Sene men attacked women customers, claiming they were denigrating Indian values. During the probe, the police also found out that Sene had links with the perpetrators of the 2008 Malegaon blasts. Incidentally, at a Dharm Jagruti Sabha in 2009, Muthalik had claimed, “Malegaon was a jhalak. A lot more is possible if every woman picks up bombs like Sadhvi Pragya.”
Since then, the Sene’s name has cropped up in the Hubli blast (2008) and communal clashes in Mysore (2009). “We have arrested Muthalik for abetting the throwing of a pig carcass near a religious school that led to clashes in which three people were killed,” Mysore Police Commissioner Sunil Agarwal had then said.
Imran Khan is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.com.