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Raging Communal Flames in Mangaluru May Hijack Real Issues in BJP's Race to Bengaluru

The ‘do or die’ Karnataka Assembly polls are just three months away, and a lot is at stake for the three dominant players in the state.

D P Satish | CNN-News18dp_satish

Updated:January 5, 2018, 11:48 PM IST
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Raging Communal Flames in Mangaluru May Hijack Real Issues in BJP's Race to Bengaluru
File photo of BJP workers holding a motorcycle rally in Mangaluru. (Getty Images)
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Bengaluru: The road to Bengaluru begins from Manguluru, or so predict political observers in Karnataka, as the southern coastal city makes itself to front pages again and again, all the time for the wrong reasons. In the latest, a BJP worker Deepak Rao was killed allegedly by workers of Muslim radical outfit the Popular Front of India (PFI). The city is on edge, and the chill is spreading to other parts of the state.

The ‘do or die’ Karnataka Assembly polls are just three months away, and a lot is at stake for the three dominant players in the state. For the ruling Congress, it is a battle for survival, because it is the only large state the party rules in India after Punjab. For BJP, winning Bengaluru is essential to prove that the Narendra Modi wave is not limited to north of the Vindhyas. And for regional player JD (S) of former prime minister HD Deve Gowda, it is another chance to play kingmaker and, probably, once again have a foothold in New Delhi.

Mangaluru is not new to communal violence. Since early 1990s, the prosperous region has been in the news mostly for wrong reasons. Hindu-Muslim clashes, attacks on churches and moral policing, you name it, Mangaluru has it all.

The rapid growth of fringe Hindutva elements and Muslim radical organizations like PFI (and its political wing SDPI) has contributed to the worsening situation. According to Karnataka BJP, over 30 of their affiliated activists have been killed here since the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government came to power five years ago. The ruling Congress disputes these claims and blames the BJP for fanning communal tensions to come to power.

Wednesday’s incident has once again brought Congress and BJP face to face raising the fears of more violence ahead of elections. BJP’s chief ministerial candidate BS Yeddyurappa was quick to react directly holding Siddaramaiah government for the deaths. Speaking to News18, he said “Siddaramaiah’s appeasement politics has been responsible for the death of our workers in the state. Mangaluru district in charge minister B Ramanatha Rai must quit immediately. He is encouraging and protecting radical elements. The Congress will pay a huge price for it in the elections”.

The Union minister of state for Skill Development and the face of Hindutva in Karnataka Ananthkumar Hegde was more vocal about it. In a series of tweets he attacked Siddaramaiah government branding it as an anti-Hindu administration. BJP MPs from the state also held a protest outside Parliament building in New Delhi on Thursday.

The unending spiral of communal deaths have sent shock waves across the Congress party in the state. According to insiders a visibly tense Siddaramaiah pulled up his minister and MLA from Mangaluru UT Khader for failing to rein in radical elements. He also held a detailed discussion with Home minister R Ramalingareddy ordering him to douse the raging flames immediately. Talking to media he said “BJP statements are the most irresponsible ones. They want to use communal tensions to get the votes. Our government is not protecting anyone. We will take the strictest action irrespective of their religion and political affiliations. We have already arrested the killers and investigating it from all angles”.

Reddy also accused BJP MP Shobha Karandlaje of having a political alliance with PFI in her native village Panchayat near Puttur in Mangaluru district. He said, “Congress will do no business with PFI or SDPI”.

In the meantime BJP has released a picture of food and consumer affairs minister UT Khader sharing a meal with a youth Congress leader who is an alleged member of a gang called “Target Group” formed to extort money from local traders. The BJP claims that the same group is linked to radical Muslim elements behind the murder of its workers. Dismissing the charges against him speaking to News18, Khader said he has nothing to do with the said person. “At a function he was sitting next to me. I did not invite him to that place. He is a local criminal who is into extortion. We sent him to jail for that. If I am correct he was not involved in any communal incidents. Let the police take action against him. Who is stopping them?”

The developments in the last one month has given enough hints that Hindutva versus Muslim radical elements issue is going to be the main issue in Assembly polls at least in coastal and adjoining Malnad (hilly region) Karnataka.

But some pro-Kannada groups and forums are expressing fears over communal agenda hijacking the polls ignoring the real issues. Vasanth Shetty, leader of a Kannada and Karnataka centric organization “Banavasi Balaga” feels that real issues like interstate water disputes, irrigation, infrastructure, uncontrolled migration of outsiders to Karnataka, corruption etc will be given a quiet burial and emotive issues will dominate the polls. He said “the mainstream media is at fault here. They are behaving like as if the entire Karnataka is burning in communal fire. There are disturbances only in and around Mangaluru. The rest of the state is peaceful and people want their issues to be discussed during the elections. It is sad that BJP is focusing only on communal issues. The political parties can’t address the real issues and find easy things like these to fool the voters”.

Even though Yeddyurappa is trying his best to assure the people development will be the main issue in the elections, the straws in the wind tell of a different picture.
| Edited by: Ananya Chakraborty
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