news Saturday, June 06, 2015 - 05:30
Earlier this week, the government of Karnataka withdrew certain cases pertaining to communal violence in the southern parts of the state. Among those who would obtain relief from this move, are activists of the Popular Front of India, a group that claims it is progressive but whose actions often negate this stated position. On Monday the cabinet withdrew 175 cases registered against 1,614 people in the wake of communal clashes that occurred in Hasan, Shivamogga and Mysuru districts. In Mysuru, 38 cases had been registered in April 2009 when violence broke out in Kyatamaranahalli, two cases against Popular Front of India and Karnataka Forum for Dignity (KFD) activists for an attack on the police; a total of 214 people were implicated in these cases. The cases in Hasan (21) and Shivamogga (114) districts were registered against 1,400 people in March 2010, after groups took to violence following the publication of an article by Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen in Kannada daily Kannada Prabha. Many of the accused are activists of the PFI. Violence broke out in Udayagiri area of Mysuru after the head of a pig was found outside a mosque in Kyatamaranahalli are of the city in June 2009. The following day, despite a lack of permission to protest, members of the PFI went ahead. In all, the violence left three people dead, around 18 injured and several houses property damaged. A fact finding report by the Karnataka Komu Souharda Vedike (KKSV) noted the involvement of activists of the Popular Front of India in damaging property, including several houses belonging Hindus. The report also says that the nature of the violence suggested that it in some places at least, it was carried out in a systematic manner by the PFI. There is still some ambiguity about the circumstances of the deaths, injuries and other violence. If there was any indication that innocent people were falsely implicated, the government could have appointed a committee comprising various stakeholders and civil society groups to look into the charges before withdrawing the cases. Each case should have been decided on an individual basis by the committee and solutions worked out to help any innocent person. The Congress appears to think that withdrawing these cases will translate into electoral gains. But this is not only a simplistic calculation, but also one that could contribute to the PFI’s rise – both politically and socially. Cultural implications For several years, the PFI has been seeking to establish a cadre-based organization, and its functioning is remarkably similar to that of the RSS. Everywhere you look, a PFI unit is trying to address a problem – whether it is distributing books in the schools of Assam’s villages, or speaking out against atrocities against Dalits in another part of the country, or about health issues elsewhere. PFI's Freedom Parade However, a closer look beyond the publicity material reveals a deeply fundamentalist group whose activities negate its proclaimed objectives. The reach and spread of the PFI is not well-known, unlike the RSS. But like the RSS, Bajrang Dal and VHP – PFI’s cadres have been known to carry out “moral policing” in the villages of coastal Karnataka and parts of Kerala, where the group is strong. Although these have never become spectacles like the pub attack did, the PFI does exert strong influence among sections of Muslims coastal Karnataka and Kerala, even though there are several sections of Muslims who regard the group as a cultural anathema. The state government’s withdrawal of the cases gives the group an indirect legitimacy, which could remove some of the negativity associated with the group. Also, there is no clarity on how many of those against whom cases have been taken back are repeat offenders. Political considerations The Congress has run into a rough patch in Karnataka, and the withdrawal of cases against PFI appears to have been made under the impression that it will earn the party some goodwill among Muslims, but that is unlikely to happen. One of the strongest convictions of the PFI is that the Congress is “anti-Muslim” – this is a message that is repeatedly conveyed to its members through meetings, speeches and even WhatsApp messages. A WhatsApp message circulated ahead of the gram panchayat elections in Karnataka begins thus: “Yes, the countdown to the gram panchayat elections has begun… Let’s come to the point. It is said that if we vote other parties such as the SDPI for instance, the BJP will come to power, that is why we must vote for the Congress. But the Congress that we believe is secular has given us shoonya (nothing) until now. People are understanding its deceit, and its hidden politics and are teaching the Congress a much deserved lesson.” It goes on in this vein, projecting the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) as an alternative. Strangely enough, or perhaps not, during the just concluded gram panchayat elections, the BJP and SDPI had actually tied up to defeat the Congress in Jokatte village. This has happened in the past as well.   

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