Mob violence in Bengaluru: Divisive politics cannot be ignored

M. A. Siraj

Bengaluru: The two-day rioting has scarred Bengaluru and left the citizens wondering as to what has gone wrong with the city which had not seen violence of this scale for quite some time. The Police firing felled three persons, left a few injured and almost 200 persons were charged for committing various crimes ranging from pelting of stones to looting, burning and attacking public property.

Violence gripped the D.J.Halli—K.G.Halli area in north-eastern part of the City on Tuesday evening when a post making derogatory comments about Prophet Muhammad on the local Congress MLA’s Facebook page inflamed passions and brought the protestors onto the streets and in the forecourt of the local police station. The violent mob had barricaded roads, set afire several vehicles and a few police vans and damaged a lot of other properties. Police had to open fire when the mob allegedly tried to set the police station with personnel inside on fire. Three persons who were either bystanders or passing by the area were killed.

Congress MLA Akhanda Srinivasa Murthy

Largest slum

The D.J.Halli—K.G.Halli settlement is designated as the largest slum in Karnataka.  Thickly populated, served inadequately by municipal amenities, the area is a den of drug-peddlers and operators of many an illegal activity. It comes under Pulikeshinagar Assembly constituency which is currently represented by Mr. Akhand Srinivasa Murthy of the Congress. Though it is reserved for Scheduled Caste candidate, nearly 40% of the electorates are Muslim while the remaining have a high representation of Dalits and Tamil Christians. Poverty is however common to all. Mr. Murthy has a fair record of serving his constituency and maintaining cordial relationship with all communities. He is seen actively participating in social and religious ceremonies and has actively worked for the welfare of the electorate. It is unimaginable that he would do any such thing like fomenting religious antipathy to squander his socio-political capital. It is useful to remember that he won by a margin of over 81,000 votes, the highest victory margin among the 28 MLAs from the city. The man he defeated is Prasanna Kumar of JDS who could muster only around 15,000 votes during the 2018 Assembly elections.

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Inflammatory post

It comes as a mystery as to how this inflammatory post found space on the MLAs Facebook page and how it became viral on WhatsApp in a quick time. The main culprit Naveen is nephew of the MLA but Mr. Murthy has denied that he had anything to do with him as he had strained relations with him for a decade. Naveen, who has been arrested following an FIR filed by some complainants, alleges his FB account had been hacked. But the pattern does hint about some planning in making it viral and inflaming passions.

Handiwork

There could be two possibilities behind the inflammatory post. It may be the handiwork of some right wing elements who might have prevailed upon Naveen to put the post in Murthy’s FB page. Media reports say Naveen had even earlier been responsible for such posts. In the current atmosphere where there is a convergence of interest of the political party ruling the State and the media leaning towards the right wing forces, divisive stratagems find support from diverse quarters to drive wedge between communities and their political representatives coming from the opposition party.  

SDPI angle

However, the ruling dispensation has accused the SDPI (Social, Democratic Party of India) activists for inflaming the passions. The SDPI has been striving to make inroads among Muslims in their areas of concentration in the City. Its candidates have twice come close to winning a seat in the Assembly during the 2013 and 2018 elections. The party captured one ward each during the last two municipal elections for the 198-ward BBMP (Bengaluru’s municipal body) during 2010 and 2015 elections. Elections are due in September but are more likely to be postponed in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic for some time. It is eyeing such areas where Congress gets en masse support of Muslims. It would be no surprise that such exercises would create distance between the Congress and the Muslims at time when the Congress’ secular plank stands diluted. The Pulikeshinagar Assembly constituency is an SC reserve segment. But there are seven municipal wards under it and four of them have sizeable Muslim population. Currently two of the wards are represented by Muslim corporators.

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Not all is lost

Poverty and illiteracy in the densely populated area make it vulnerable to fast spread of rumours. Several Muslim NGOs have been working to improve the living conditions in the region. During the last lockdown, Mercy Mission ran several cluster kitchens and ration distribution centres in the area, and MLA Srinivas Murthy patronised their operations. This is not favourably viewed by the right wing communal elements. Yet all is not lost. Even after the violent mob ransacked MLA Murthy’s house, the man kept his cool and apologized for misuse of his Facebook account and appealed for calm and harmony. Similarly, a band of Muslim youth threw a protective cordon around the local Hindu temple to ward off attack from the rioters. Such measures have been appreciated by the saner sections of the media and people of all communities and provide a silver lining of hope amid darker times.

M.A.Siraj is an accomplished journalist based in Bengaluru

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