On 28 January, Keragodu village in Karnataka's Mandya district erupted in protest after government officials brought down a Hanuman flag hoisted by the locals.
While some reports suggest that the flag was hoisted by the gram panchayat office, others state that it was raised by a 'local religious organisation'.
Since the incident, police personnel have been deployed in and around the village. The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Janata Dal (Secular) have organised protests in Mandya and Bengaluru against the incident.
Earlier today (30 January), news reports from the two districts showed hundreds of karyakartas from the BJP and Bajrang Dal brandishing Hanuman flags and saffron shawls, and clashing with the police. The Karnataka Police have detained several leaders and workers of the BJP.
What Is The Incident?
The controversy erupted last weekend, when a group of people erected a 108-foot flagpole in the village and raised a Hanuman flag on it. According to reports, the village administration had granted the required permission to install the flagpole.
However, after complaints were filed against it, state government officials brought down the flag.
Soon enough, the BJP-JD(S) combine and members of the Bajrang Dal rose in protest against its removal.
Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah reacted to the development and stated that only the tricolour should be hoisted, and not any religious flag.
Since then, the police have imposed Section 144 and have banned large gatherings to maintain law and order in the village.
On Sunday, when the officials from the village administration visited the site to remove the flag, a large gathering of locals shouted slogans against the officials. Local Congress MLA Ravi Kumar's banners were vandalised during the protest, causing further unrest.
'We Are Rama Bhaktas Too,' Says Congress
The BJP, since then, has gone on a protest in Mandya and Bengaluru.
Siddaramaiah has defended his earlier statement and said that the tricolour should fly the highest. District In-charge Minister N Cheluvarayaswamy issued a clarification that the flagpole's location falls under the jurisdiction of the panchayat and that the permission that was obtained was to hoist the national flag. He further stated that "it was replaced by another flag that evening".
"There may be politics behind it (the installation of the Hanuman flag replacing the National Flag). I don't know who is behind it ...This country works under democracy and the Constitution. Tomorrow they may say they want to hoist the flag (saffron flag) in front of the DC's office. Can it be allowed? If it is permitted at one place, it will extend to other places. This is the only reservation," Cheluvarayaswamy said.
Furthermore, he assured that the Congress is "not here to hurt the youth" and that the state government is willing to install the flag at a private place or near a temple. He added that they too are 'Rama Bhaktas'.
According to reports, the flag-post's installation was funded by locals of Keragodu and 12 other surrounding villages with the BJP-JD(S) workers taking an active part in it.
BJP has criticised the government's 'anti-Hindu' stance and questioned why the flag was taken down despite permission being provided for it in the first place.
Notably, the permission for the installation of the flagpole was granted by the village panchayat. However, when complaints were filed against it, officials asked for the removal of the Hanuman flag.
According to Cheluvarayaswamy, the flagpole's location falls under the panchayat's jurisdiction, and permission was initially granted for hoisting the national flag on Republic Day.
While the defence of the officials states that one Sri Gourishankar Seva Trust had been allowed to raise the national flag (and hoisting the Hanuman flag was a violation of the rules), the former vice-president of the village panchayat mentioned that the letter requested permission to hoist a flag for "religious purposes". He accused the district officer of providing CM Siddaramaiah with incorrect information.
"When we wrote the request letter, we mentioned we would also use this for religious purposes. What we are requesting is to permit us to hoist the saffron flag," he was quoted as saying.
Timing Becomes Crucial
Meanwhile, Keragodu village has come to a standstill. The police have tightened the security and have erected barricades around the flagpole. CCTV cameras have been installed to ensure no untoward incidents take place, PTI reported. Most shops and other business establishments have been shut since tensions continue to prevail.
This incident comes just a week after the Ram Mandir inauguration in Ayodhya.
The Congress has already been accused of resorting to 'appeasement' politics in the state by the opposition BJP and JD(S). With the Lok Sabha polls just a few months away, this incident comes at a crucial time for the political parties in the state.
Reports also suggest that the BJP has been contemplating fielding former CM and alliance partner H D Kumaraswamy from the Mandya seat — a traditional Congress stronghold.
During the previous general elections in 2019, prominent actors like Darshan, Yash, Rockline Venkatesh and Doddanna had backed Sumalatha Ambareesh. BJP did not field a candidate, indirectly supporting her candidature. The JD(S) had then fielded Kumaraswamy's son Nikhil Kumaraswamy against Sumalatha.
She won by a margin of 128,876 votes and became the first independent woman Member of Parliament from Karnataka. She has pledged her support to the BJP.
Mandya, as it goes to the polls, will be an interesting seat to watch, since the traditional Congress-JD(S) rivalry will be put to a test because of renewed equations between the BJP and the JD(S). Former Congress chief minister S M Krishna, and 'rebel star' Ambareesh were among the leaders elected from Mandya earlier.
No Banning Bajrang Dal?
Meanwhile, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's Karnataka chapter has announced its intentions of launching a 'Hanuman Dhwaj' campaign in the state. They have stated that Hanuman flags will be hoisted on "every road and house of the state".
Interestingly, since the BJP did not have many takers for Hindutva earlier last year during the state polls, the Congress in the state mocked the BJP by displaying Lord Hanuman's gada (mace) when it won the polls.
Congress, in its manifesto last year, had proposed a ban on Bajrang Dal if voted to power. This caused a furore in Karnataka.
To counter that criticism, Deputy Chief Minister D K Shivakumar had suggested building 'new Hanuman temples' in the state if the Congress came to power in Karnataka. Many leaders retracted their statements and had to apologise.
Earlier today (30 January), the Panchayat Development Officer (PDO) was suspended in Keragodu village for dereliction of duty. In the issue ordered on 29 January, Jeevan B M was suspended from duty. A departmental inquiry has been initiated against him. He has been accused of permitting the trust to construct a flagpole on government land, which is reportedly in violation of the law.
The PDO has been suspended per Rule 210 of the Karnataka Grama Swaraj and Panchayat Raj Act, 1993.
Sharan Setty (Sharan K A) is an Associate Editor at Swarajya. He tweets at @sharansetty2.
An appeal from Swarajya
At Swarajya, we rely on our readers' support through subscriptions to sustain our media platform. Unlike larger conglomerates, we are unable to relentlessly chase advertising money — our model is largely built on your patronage.
Your support has never been more crucial. We work tirelessly to deliver 10-15 high-quality articles daily, ensuring you receive insightful content from 7 AM to 10 PM.
If you believe India's story has to be articulated in a way it has never been done before without shrugging it off, become a patron (or) subscribe now for ₹̶2̶4̶0̶0̶ ₹1999 and get 12 print issues, unlimited digital access for 1 year, a special India that is Bharat T-shirt (Offer ends soon).
We are counting on you!