Coastal Karnataka is miffed with the state government for the way in which it is being treated at present. The Chief Minister has been nastily taking jibes at the region, once even asking, “How can you ask me for anything when you don’t vote for me?”. He also recently called the coast a region ‘which lacks understanding’.
But what may just turn the tide even more strongly in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) favour is the attempt by the present government to ‘silently withdraw’ cases of rioters and ‘rowdy sheeters’ and those accused for various grievous crimes. Most of the accused are said to belong to a particular minority community. This has riled up Hindu organisations in the region and locals of the area who have been witness and victims of such heinous crimes.
In all, 142 such cases have been withdrawn by the present government.
Repeating what it did in January 2018 prior to the state Assembly elections, the Karnataka government directed the withdrawal of 142 cases including those related to the infamous communal violence of Ulaibettu and Karai.
A Right To Information (RTI) application revealed early this month says that these cases involved grave offences like rioting, attempt-to-murder, molestation and assault on police officials.
The RTI revealed that between October 2018 and January 2019, various cases pending in different sessions and Judicial Magistrate First Class (JMFC) courts were directed to be withdrawn. This irked the public prosecutors who wrote to the Director of Prosecutions and the Home department. This has also angered the general public and various Hindu organisations who see it as nothing but minority appeasement in the run up to the Lok Sabha elections.
“Around 40 of the 142 cases that were withdrawn were from Dakshina Kannada, of which around 90 per cent had Muslims as accused. But the worst part is the now-withdrawn Ulaibettu case of 2014, in which cases were filed against more than 40 Muslims. We (various Hindu organisations) had protested against such barbaric violence, but had cases slapped on 60 of us instead. None of these cases have been withdrawn though. This selective withdrawal smacks of minority appeasement,” says Division Secretary of Vishwa Hindu Parishad Sharan Pumpwell. “In a case relating to the outraging of a woman’s modesty, 20-25 people are yet to be arrested. Even though the case is still under investigation, the government has withdrawn it,” he adds.
The District Court of Dakshina Kannada district, though, in a recent decision, refused to take cognisance of the government order and has stayed the withdrawal of the cases on the rioters under Section 321 of the CrPC.
The Ulaibettu episode was a murky one as it triggered a chain of threatening incidents on the coast. From riots, rallies, transfer of the deputed officer, protest by cops against the transfer, accusations of wrong arrests, alleged protection of the real accused by politicians and his escape thereon, the list is long.
It had all started in reaction to an attack on Dattapeeta pilgrims on 5 December 2014, wherein Hindu groups had taken out a rally. Stones began to be pelted from buildings in certain areas which led to the situation spiralling out of control, with the cops having to resort to lathi-charge and curfew being imposed.
An arrest made in the case led to the Circle Inspector, Pramod Kumar, being asked to “go on leave” allegedly owing to ‘political pressure’. But the entire police station refused to report to work until their boss was reinstated.
He joined work soon but was accused of making a “wrong arrest” with MLA Moideen Bava defending those arrested as being “innocent”. The victims in the attack then came out in defence of the officer who, in due time, was transferred elsewhere.
Cases were filed against MB Puranik, Satyajit Suratkal Jagadish Shenava, Sharan Pumpwell - all key members of various Hindu organisations, among others. “Those that committed the crime and should be behind bars were let off by the government. But thankfully, the court has not accepted the government order. The judge has asked how the government could withdraw cases when they are under judicial scrutiny,” remarked Dakshina Kannada VHP district president Jagadish Shenava.
“When we talk of minority appeasement, they defend their actions saying they have withdrawn cases against Hindus also. But those “Hindus” are people involved in some farmer protests in North Kanara. The communal cases happened only in Dakshina Kannada”, adds Shenava.
Talking of the dilemma of the present coalition government, Pranta Pracharak of Rashtriya Swayamsevek Sangh (RSS), Dr Kalladka Prabhakar Bhat, says, “The politicos are frenzied now. For, on the one hand, if they do not help these rioters from the minority Muslim community, they may whip up an anti-coalition movement which may affect the outcome of the elections. On the other, not withdrawing all cases would antagonise Hindu voters. This explains the drama of case withdrawal and a subsequent court rap. The government is scared and has fallen into its own trap of minority appeasement.”
But Congress leaders in the region defended the withdrawal of cases. Former Minister Ramanath Rai, at an event launching the party’s manifesto, was quoted as saying, “The cases were withdrawn as they were found to be false.”
But Minority Morcha leader of the BJP, Franklin Monteiro, accused the minister in question and the MLA of covering up for the ‘real accused’. “The ministers and the MLA had even stage-managed the arrest of a wrong person who had no connection with the Ulaibettu riot. That way, they shielded Aboobacker, who was the mastermind of the Ulaibettu flare-up,”remarked Monteiro.
Even those who have never had a history of being involved in any such activities are said to have been pinned in this case. Chief of Bajrang Dal (South division) Sunil K R has pointed out that many young Hindu men who had an absolutely clean record have been slapped with cases under Section 107. Praveen Karkera is one such youngster who is yet to come to terms with what happened during the ‘Ulaibettu Chalo’ rally.
“I do not even know how I am liable for action under Section 107 which is usually slapped on rowdy sheeters with habitual offences. I am spending a lot of my income on just legal matters,” says Karkera, a bus conductor who is the sole breadwinner of his family. Karkera was just a participant in the rally that was taken out in protest against the Ulaibettu episode.
Former Lokayukta of Karnataka, Justice Santhosh Hegde, who analysed the withdrawal of cases and the 142 charge-sheets filed against rioters, said this decision sends a wrong signal.
“The prosecution has a cause to issue charge sheets on the rioters, and it is highly objectionable that the government decides to unilaterally withdraw the cases against them, questioning the authority of the judiciary,” says Justice Hegde.
“It is a clear case of undermining the judicial process and authority and interference into the affairs of the judiciary. And talking about the timing of the decision, does it not look highly politicised? I appreciate that the High court of Karnataka has stayed the withdrawal of cases” he adds.
Leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party have questioned the timing of the withdrawal and called it an ‘attempt to disrupt the peace and harmony in the region’. The coast was the only stretch in the state that saw a saffron wave in the state elections. “Our district has maintained peace and harmony since the people have selected seven BJP MLAs who are focused on development. Withdrawing Ulaibettu cases appeases one community, thereby creating an atmosphere of fear. Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy should come clean on his intentions,” said MLA of Mangalore North Dr Bharat Shetty, as per a report.
The rally of the Prime Minister on Saturday (13 April) also saw a mention by local leaders of the withdrawal of the cases by the state government, with the crowd roaring in response saying it will “not let it be forgotten”.
“It is clear that the state government’s minority appeasement is behind this heinous order. But I am glad that the judiciary put its foot down and didn’t let that happen,” says the current MP and BJP candidate from Mangalore, Nalin Kumar Kateel.
With elections round the corner (Dakshina Kannada will vote on 18 April and Uttara Kannada on 23 April), the recent political murders of over 20 young Hindu men in the region is fresh in public memory. Muslim votes that went in favour of the Congress during the recent state elections are seeing a strong Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) alternatrive this time. Images of the Congress candidate, Mithun Rai, flanked by popular minority community leaders of the region during his election campaign, have not gone down well with the average Hindu voter. With Congress leader B Janardhana Poojary also vouching for avid temple-goer and current candidate Nalin Kumar Kateel, BJP stands a very good chance in the district.
In Udupi and Uttara Kannada too, the minority appeasement politics of the state government, and the announcement of a ‘possible’ separate ministry for fisheries by the Prime minister during the rally may find favour with fishermen, of whom a substantial chunk are Hindus.
This region, which includes the seats Uttara Kannada, Dakshina Kannada, Chikmagalur, and Udupi, is derogatorily called a ‘Hindutva laboratory’. This time, voters of the region seem fired up by the injustice meted out post-the Ulaibettu episode. In such a sensitive situation, the quest to protect one’s cultural turf is at an all-time high. If election gimmicks such as communal appeasement were to backfire, the Congress may be staring at complete decimation, and a point of no political return.
This report is part of Swarajya's 50 Ground Stories Project - an attempt to throw light on issues and constituencies the old media largely refuses to engage. You can support this initiative by sponsoring as little as Rs 2,999. Click here for more details.
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