Bengaluru: Tejasvi Surya, MP representing the elite Bengaluru South constituency, has proved to be a great embarrassment for the party and the government in Karnataka. In his bid to deflect the public attention from the government’s failure in attending to crisis induced by the Covid pandemic, he made a false allegation accusing the civic body of ‘appointing Muslim terrorists’. But the facts highlighted by the media have led to a storm of protest against the man who is known for often floating canards.
Raid that was not
The young MP who is also an advocate, on May 5 ‘raided’ the South Zone Covid warroom of the BBMP, the civic body administering Bengluru, read out a list of 17 Muslim employees who were working in the centre that deals with public complaints from Covid patients and directs them to hospitals. He and three BJP MLAs who accompanied him—Uday Garudachar, Ravi Subramanya and Satish Reddy—questioned as to ‘who appointed these terrorists in the warroom’ and alleged that they were blocking the beds meant for the Covid patients. The incident went viral in which an MLA was seen asking the BBMP South Zone Commissioner, Tulasi Madineni, an IAS officer: “This reads like appointment for a madrassa rather than a BBMP office.”
But an alert media immediately found out that the 17 Muslims youths were part of 212 employees hired by the BBMP to man the warroom and that others belonged to the majority Hindu community. It was pointed out that Surya chose to only read out the names of the 17 Muslim employees to give a communal twist to the issue. In fact, all the 212 employees were hired through a recruiting firm Crystal Infosystem, which had selected the candidates by applying due diligence and there was no preference for faith of the employees, nor they had any doubtful antecedents. As for the officer Ms. Tulasi Madineni, who had taken charge only recently, the background was not fully known to her and she appeared nonplussed before the ‘raiding’ team of legislators. The remarks by the MP also had insinuations against Mr. Sarfaraz Khan, Joint Commissioner of the BBMP for Solid Waste Management. The same evening, Mr. Sarfaraz Khan, denied in a Facebook post that he had any role in appointing the employees and the bed booking scam that Surya was alleging.
Finding the allegations totally contrary to the facts, almost all the newspapers highlighted the calumnious nature of the MP’s observations and interpreted this as an attempt to deflect the public opinion from the Government’s failure to tackle the pandemic challenge.
Meanwhile, the BBMP removed the 17 employees whose names were reeled off by the legislators. The issue was soon taken up by the civil society members who felt outraged at the attempt to spread hate at a time when efforts needed to be directed at fighting the virus.
Historian Ramachandra Guha and several other activists addressed a virtual press conference and urged the Chief Minister Yediyurappa to chastise the party MP. Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee President D K Shivakumar alleged that Satish Reddy, one of the four ‘raiding’ legislators, himself was involved in the bed-blocking scam. In fact, functionaries of another warroom alleged that Satish Reddy manhandled some of the staffers while on inspection.
Surya spreads darkness
In a scathing editorial titled “This Surya spreads more darkness than light” The New Indian Express observed: Bengaluru MP Tejasvi Surya—who excels in communal cowboy act, claiming to have unearthed a bed allocation scam in one of the Bengaluru Corporation’s Covid warroom. Why the names he read out were to be deemed de facto guilty was no secret—religion was itself offered as the sign of guilt. One of the MLAs in his team even spat out the word ‘madrassa’. A bureaucrat with no link to bed allocation process was dragged in too. Same reason, of course”. It further said: “But for lawmakers to vilify and target a community amidst a full-blown pandemic is shockingly reminiscent of the worst the world has seen…..In these dark times, the least lawmakers can do is not to add to the darkness around us. There must be a price to pay for his.”
Deccan Herald, the leading English daily in the State in a front-paged report termed Surya’s fulminations, ‘bid to give communal tinge to BBMP bed scam’. Leader of the Opposition Mr. Siddramaiah said: “Tejasvi Surya, who read out a list of names from one community as if they are behind the scam, should also tell us to which religion the CM and others belong.”
It’s not oversight
It will be naïve to term Surya’s observations as ‘oversight’. Political observers and civil society activists affirm that they are calculated attempt to provoke hate against Muslims. NGO worker Bhavya Narasimha says the MP is in the habit of spreading communal calumny as a means of deflecting public opinion from BJP Government’s failure. In a video circulated she quoted him referring to a particular community as ‘puncturewalls’, a term carefully crafted to portray a community which protested CAA and NRC in poor light. She further said the MP showed disrespect towards Arab women in a tweet by referring to them having sex without orgasm. The tweet was taken up by a female member of the UAE’s princely family to register its protest against a Parliamentarian of the ruling party in India. It embarrassed the External Affairs Ministry.
Bhavya said while the nation was engaged in discussing the Hathras gangrape case and cremation of the victim’s body by the police in the darkness of night, the MP again tried to deflect the public opinion by terming Bengaluru turning into ‘a hub of terrorism’. She said the MP is deft in cooking up stories and he is not a fool to do all these’. Rather all these were part of a campaign to deflect public opinion, she added.
As of now, 15 of the 17 employees have been reinstated by the BBMP. But many of them have told the media that they are working in an atmosphere of fear and insecurity as they feel that their work will now be scrutinized minutely.
The issue which has dominated the headlines in local dailies has brought the MP under a spotlight and nothing that he would utter in future is likely to pass the muster without a magnifying glass.
M A Siraj is Bengaluru based seasoned journalist who writes for a variety of newspapers including The Hindu, and news portals.