The extensive communal violence in Bengaluru on 11-12 August reminds me of the similar mayhems in Bengal’s Baduria town under Basirhat subdivision bordering Bangladesh on 2 July 2017. The last one was subsequently spread to some of adjoining areas in the next few days. The digital triggers for the violence as well as the consequent mobilization of vandals through online social media on both occasions have revealed almost a copy-paste method in the madness. The pattern is being increasingly used in inciting sectarian frenzy in various parts of the country as many other incidents have underlined.
In India’s Silicon Valley city, tension was palpable following mutual incitements in Facebook and Whatsapp on the eve of Janmastami (birthday of Lord Krishna) on 11 August. Exchanges of hateful messages and MIMs about the sexual proclivities of the Hindu god and Islam’s prophet were making rounds. The sectarian spat among some local netizens had begun in the backdrop of a more divisive Bhumi Pujan or foundation-laying ceremony for the grand Ram Temple in Ayodhya on 5 August. Although India is still a secular republic, at least officially, the Hindu right wing Prime Minister Narendra Modi made it a point to be the principal player in the religious ceremony to begin the construction of a temple where once stood a five-century old mosque named after first Mughal ruler of north India, Babar. The latter was demolished 27 years back in a mob hysteria engineered by Modi’s party BJP and its ideological fountainhead, Rashtriya SwayamSevak Sangh (RSS).
Indian Muslims have grudgingly accepted the convoluted Supreme Court order that rewarded the disputed land to the ‘friends of Ram Lala’ while calling the demolition as a ‘criminal act against law’. Nevertheless, Modi and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat equated Ram Janambhoomi ‘liberation’ to Indian freedom struggle against the British Raj which implicitly harped on the Sangth’s pet view of charge against the period of Muslim rule as an era of foreign subjugation and by extension, hatred to Indian Muslims as ‘Babar ki Awlad’ (children of Babar). Taking the cue, the online glee of the Hindutva groups on the occasion of their revenge over the ‘historical wrong doers’ had already vitiated the atmosphere. A large section of Muslims are increasingly feeling seized under the Modi regime, particularly after its second term since last May as the government and ruling party have unleashed a series of legal and administrative moves towards the RSS professed goal of a Hindu Rashtra or a majoritarian India. In this backdrop, the local explosion had only needed a suitable detonator but also an accessible instigator.
The IT capital of India: a vortex of communal politics
The cosmopolitan and temperate Bengaluru and Mangaluru have become the breeding grounds for fanatic Hindutva vigilante groups like Sri Ram Sene and Hindu Jagarana Vedike under the BJP rule in Karnataka over the years. They were intermittently challenged by radical Muslim parties and groups like SDPI and PFI etc. The mainstream opposition parties including Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) too are faction-ridden and controlled by wealthy elites with vested interests in real estate promotions and other lucrative businesses in the expanding tech city and its suburbs. The recent shows of money power in horse-trading for buying allegiance of party-hopping legislators to replace the elected government are a new normal in the state and national politics.
Both BJP and its rivals have little qualms in playing the communal and caste cards as the city municipal polls are scheduled in September. Though the polls are likely to be postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, jockeying for party tickets and cold calculations over sectarian voting have already begun. Media reports pointed to factional fights within ruling and opposition parties over the Pulakeshinagar assembly constituency in east Bangaludu, the epicenter of the latest communal flare up.
The violence began over a Facebook post that insulted the prophet of Islam from P Naveen, a known mischief-monger and Hindutva enthusiast with political connection and ambition. Earlier, he had hailed the Bhumi Pujan in Ayodhya as a victory for Hindus. He is the nephew of Congress MLA from Pulakeshinagar, Akhanda Srinivasa Murthy. Murthy, a Dalit leader, had defected from the JD(S) to Congress before the last poll and won it too at the chagrin of the Congress bigwigs who had been eying the seat. Now, BJP is luring him to make headways among Dalits in municipal wards in and around the constituency.
Meanwhile, the accused Naveen, a real estate businessman as well as his rival a local SDPI leader, who was reportedly instrumental in whipping up communal passion over the former’s posts also harbored ambition to be local corporator. The list of realpolitik factors behind the communal violence is not exhausted herewith.
The sequence of events that led to the violence is still contested. A Muslim mob was reportedly gathered by SDPI men after a meeting on 11 August early evening. By late evening, a group of them raided not only the accused Naveen’s parental home at Kaval Byrasandra in east Bengaluru but also the nearby residence of his MLA uncle. Fortunately, none of them were at their homes. The mob ransacked their homes and put bikes and other vehicles on fire. A silver lining, however, came from some local Muslim youth who saved Naveen’s mother, Jayanthi R and some other family members including children by shifting them to adjoining buildings. She later told the media that the local Muslim boys stood their ground braving the ire of their coreligionists but outsiders.
According to some media reports, other groups led by SDPI men had already gone to DJ Halli police station demanding a FIR against Naveen and his immediate arrest. But police reportedly told them to wait for the senior officials to turn up. As the news spread that the police declined to take action against the MLA’s nephew, the mob outside went berserk. The trouble spread to the adjoining area of KG Halli. Some other reports said that the situation went out of control after a police search team failed to get hold of Naveen. The mobs attacked the police stations and extensively damaged and set vehicles and other properties on fire inside the compounds and outside. Some Muslim Congress MLAs and a SDPI leader who had reached the DJ Halli police station tried to control the rioters but failed. By that time, a section of mob was demanding that the offender would have to be handed over to them for summary trial.
Police charged batons on the mob, lobbed tear gas and finally opened fire killing three Muslim youth. As reinforcement reached from other areas, police imposed curfew and arrested more than hundred, mostly Muslim youth. Naveen was finally arrested after hours but claimed his Facebook account had been hacked. Neither the police top brass nor BJP’s BS Yediyurappa government explained the failure of the cyber crime and social media monitoring system in the high-tech city. They were supposed to take care of online trouble-makers since the Bhumi Pujan in view of growing communal tension in congested and mixed areas like DJ and KJ Halli. And, why did the administration take hours to rush police reinforcement within the city before all the hell broke loose? Did the top cops wait for the violence to be spread so that their political masters can harvest the electoral dividend later since the incident that involved a Congress MLA from Dalit, nephew and Muslim SDPI leaders?
Indeed, close observers of Karnataka politics now find the riot a godsend for the BJP government before the municipal polls. Chief Minister Yediyurrapa decided to follow his UP counterpart led by the Yogi Adityanath, the fanatic Hindutva monk-politician praised by Modi on Bhumi Pujan day in Ayodhya. Karnataka will recover the cost of destroyed properties from the arrested persons, overwhelmingly Muslims. It has booked a majority of the accused under the dreaded anti-terrorist act, the UAPA.
Baduria in Bengal: same hate factories in action
Like in Bengaluru early this month, the digital trigger for violence in semi-urban Baduria in rural Bengal came from a Hindu teenager who had posted a denigrating message/image about the prophet of Islam in the Facebook on or before 2 July, 2017. A Facebook post came up in the wake of Eid-Ul-Fitr and Rath Yatra that year, the last festival being a popular Hindu festival in Orissa and Bengal connoting Lord Jagannatha’s (a form of Lord Krishna) annual chariot-borne journey to his aunt’s home and return after a week. The violence broke out and was spread almost for a week as Rath Yatra was still in vogue. Paramilitary forces including BSF were deployed to control the violence amid the spats between Bengal’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) government and Modi’s BJP at the Centre.
Younger to Bengaluru’s Naveen and much less well-heeled, Baduria’s Souvik Sarkar was apparently a new convert to social media hate campaigns. In some other cases in Bengal and elsewhere, it seems that the gullible teenagers and youth who have no knowledge of religions and sensitivities around their key figures and tenets had either fallen in the traps of riot-mongers unwittingly or are being brainwashed to be the zealous trigger-pullers.
My subsequent investigation as well as those by anti-communal civil society groups and media persons found BJP-RSS propaganda machine very active among the youth of Sarkar’s village as well as the entire subdivision. The rural economy, dependent mainly on cultivation and fisheries as well as demographic politics of mixed population areas bordering Bangladesh have become a hotbed of communal outfits of both Hindu and Muslim varieties.
The ruling TMC in Bengal has been identified more as a Muslim party and its challenger BJP is championing the Hindu cause. Once known as the base for composite peasant movements led by communist parties and home of Hindu-Muslim syncretic culture, the minority-dominated subdivision has fast deteriorated into hubs of communal politics. As scheduled castes dominate the society across the faith line, mostly poor subaltern youth at both sides are following to the tunes of elite electoral politics.
The post incitement mobilization of riot mobs through the smart-phone and social media too followed the same pattern both in Bengaluru and Baduria as well as in other instants across India as well as in other instants across India. A group of Muslim youth attacked accused Souvik’s parental home, ransacked and put it on fire after failing to find him there. Police managed to arrest him within hours, apparently with the help of his uncles who were in police force. Even after his arrest, Muslim youths continued to block the roads in the town as well as neighboring areas for days. They too raided Baduria police station demanding that the culprit must be handed over to them and clashed with police when it declined.