Unless the party's high command makes any last-minute changes, the Congress in Karnataka is likely to repeat incumbent legislator Akhanda Srinivas Murthy from the minority-dominated Pulakeshinagar (reserved) seat in the northern part of the city and renominate former mayor Sampath Raj from C.V. Raman Nagar (reserved) constituency in central Bengaluru for the upcoming state assembly elections.
In the 2018 assembly polls, Srinivas Murthy won with the highest margin of votes (81,626) in the state. Pulakeshinagar constituency is a mix of slums, narrow lanes, and thickly-populated residential localities and is dominated by voters belonging to the Muslim community with a significant presence of Dalit community as well.
Srinivas Murthy is a follower of former CM Siddaramaiah. He first won from Pulakeshinagar as a JD(S) candidate in the 2013 polls but defected to Congress after he was lured by his mentor.
Sampath Raj, who was then serving as the mayor of the city, however, lost to BJP candidate S. Raghu in the middle-class dominated C.V. Raman constituency.
Sampath Raj, a close associate of state Congress president D.K. Shivakumar, though facing massive resistance against his candidature from a section of the party, is likely to be fielded again in the 2023 polls.
Srinivas Murthy, Sampath Raj And Deadly 2020 Bengaluru Riots
In August 2020, deadly violence erupted around the residence of Srinivasa Murthy and later engulfed several parts of the city.
Claiming to be angered by an allegedly inflammatory Facebook post on Muhammad (who Muslims regard as their prophet) by the nephew of Srinivas Murthy, a mob of 3,000 to 4,000 Muslims arrived at his house. In the rioting that followed, multiple properties of Akhanda Srinivasa Murthy were burnt down.
The violence escalated further as angry Muslim mobs clashed with police deployed to quell the riots. The violent eruption resulted in the imposition of a curfew in several areas of the city, including Devara Jeevanahalli (Sampath Raj was the Congress corporator from this ward) and K J Halli.
At least four people were killed, and over 100 cops were injured as rioting Muslim mobs continued on a rampage. Over 100 people were arrested, including members of the radical Islamist group Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI).
Even as the peace slowly returned, Srinivas Murthy accused fellow Congress leaders of orchestrating the attack on his residence and the deadly violence that followed. He charged that Sampath Raj and former Pulakeshinagar ward Congress corporator Abdul Rakeeb Zakir planned the attack due to long-standing political rivalry.
Srinivas Murthy also officially lodged a complaint with Central Crime Branch (CCB) in which he charged Sampath Raj with masterminding the violence. In his official complaint, Srinivas Murthy alleged that Sampath Raj was an aspirant for the Congress ticket from Pulakeshinagar during the 2018 assembly election, but Congress had denied him a ticket and fielded him instead.
"He was waiting for a chance to take revenge since then. Now, encashing the opportunity provided by the Facebook post of Naveen, my relative, he hit back. This incident may have been supported by three corporations. Being in our own party, I never expected them to behave this way," Srinivas Murthy said.
Srinivas Murthy also demanded that his party take immediate steps to expel Sampath Raj and Abdul Rakeeb Zakir.
In the charge sheet filed by the CCB, Sampath Raj was charged with hatching a conspiracy for the violence to finish off Srinivas Murthy politically in connivance with another Congress corporator (Abdul Rakeeb Zakir) and some others. Police also accused Sampath Raj of remaining in touch with the masterminds throughout the widespread arson and violence.
The CCB's interim chargesheet named 60 accused, including Sampath Raj, his assistant Arun, car driver Santosh, corporator Zakir and his associate Majnu. Attributing the attack to internal party rivalry, police said Sampath Raj and Zakir, who had issues with Murthy, took advantage of the situation on the night of August 11, when KG Halli and DJ Halli areas erupted in violence.
In November 2020, Sampath Raj and his close aide Riyazuddin were finally arrested after absconding for over 40 days. The arrest came after the Karnataka high court directed police to take all steps to arrest the former mayor.
During his interrogation by an investigating team of CCB, Sampath Raj cited Covid-19 treatment as a reason for not appearing when summoned for the second time.
In February 2021, Karnataka High Court granted Sampath Raj conditional bail. Justice John Michael Cunha granted bail with conditions that he would have to cooperate in the trial, not tamper with evidence and not leave the city without obtaining prior permission from the trial court.
After 87 days in prison, Sampath Raj was released from Parappana Agrahara prison.
Srinivas Murthy approached the Supreme Court challenging the conditional bail order. However, a bench of justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Hrishikesh Roy dismissed the petition filed by Srinivas Murthy challenging the grant of bail to Raj and Zakir by the Karnataka high court in February.
In February 2022, the Supreme court however rejected the bail applications of five accused; Shaikh Muhammed Bilal, Syed Asif, Mohammed Atif, Naqeeb Pasha And Syed Ikramuddin.
Loyalists of former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah have repeatedly alleged that D.K. Shivakumar and his followers orchestrated the entire episode to deny ticket to Srinivas Murthy from the Pulakeshinagar constituency.
In a video that went viral on social media, former MLA Ashok Pattan is seen telling Siddaramaiah that loyalists of the KPCC president had "hatched a conspiracy" to deny ticket to Srinivas Murthy in the 2023 Assembly elections.
Predicatbly enough, D.K. Shivakumar sprung to the defence of Sampath Raj and accused the ruling BJP of "misusing" the law to defame his party. "Definitely this is an attempt to target Congress, where is the evidence to prove that Congressmen are involved. I have also seen the chargesheet. They (BJP) are doing it, they have a tradition to trouble Congress leaders and they are at it," he claimed.
With Congress likely to field both Srinivas Murthy and Sampath Raj in the upcoming state polls, questions are bound to arise on how the factional feuds with the party have often caused riots in the city.
Congress infighting and previous riots in Bengaluru
The Cauvery riots of 1991 are remembered in the water-sharing history of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu as the first incident of deadly violence over the contentious issue.
On 11 December 1991, an interim order by the Central government-appointed Cauvery Water Tribunal asked Karnataka to share 205 TMCFT of water with its neighbouring state.
The Congress-led state government called for a statewide strike. Massive protests broke out on 12 December against the court order. In Bangalore, entire slums of migrants were torched. Sixteen people died in the police firing on marauding mobs.
Over 50,000 Tamilians fled Karnataka within 48 hours. While official estimates claim only 20 people were killed in the riots, Tamil activists put the number in the hundreds.
Chief Minister S. Bangarappa, who was facing a massive internal revolt against his leadership from within the ruling party and cornered over series of scandals, was accused of inciting the tension in a bid to cling to his post. Cabinet members, including senior Congress leader and Culture Minister S. Ramesh were accused of masterminding the violence.
In a memorandum to Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, all except four of the MPs from the state threatened to resign if their demand to sack Bangarapaa immediately was not met.
1986 violence over Deccan Herald article
In December 1986, a short story penned by PKN Namboodri about a youth named 'Mohammad', who was a poverty-stricken, handicapped person who eventually committed suicide, was published in the Sunday edition of the newspaper on 7 December 1986.
The minority community took the story as a reference to their own Prophet and set the town ablaze.
Large-scale demonstrations over the alleged inflammatory nature of the title turned into violent protests. The daily's headquarters in Bengaluru was attacked and protesters resorted to arson. Police opened fire to quell the violence. The violence killed 16 people and injured over 50.
Former Congress leader CM Ibrahim was among the key players in the 1986 Deccan Herald episode. He was accused of leading the Muslim leaders who instigated the community with provocative speeches, leading the 6000-odd mob outside the newspaper's building and urging them to offer Namaz on the road. As per this report in India Today, he also threatened to gatecrash the premises, which is when the police had to intervene and get the mob in control.
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