One of the main issues raised by the BJP in Karnataka in the run-up to the Assembly polls is that dozens of its workers have allegedly been killed by ‘jihadi’ forces in the last five years. In 2017, MP Shobha Karandlaje wrote to the Union Home Ministry, listing the names of 23 party workers who had been killed in the five years of Congress rule in Karnataka.
This letter has been quoted widely by many party leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in their campaign speeches.
However, it turns out, the first person named on the list, Ashok Poojary, is actually alive and is set to vote in the elections on May 12.
Ashok is a member of the Bajrang Dal, but, according to reports, he was never an active member of the organisation. He played instruments for music bands playing at temple events.
He had alleged that he had been attacked in 2015 by six men riding on motorcycles. He claimed that the attackers assaulted him after they noticed a saffron scarf on his head. The police chargesheet identifies three of his attackers as Mushtafa, 28, Hanif, 36, and Kabeer, 28.
But, he had managed to survive the attack and recovered from it.
A ground report by Scroll revisited the families of all the victims and found that not only was Ashok Poojary alive but also that in at least 10 cases real estate, politics, elections and romantic affairs were the reasons for the deaths/murders.
Speaking to NDTV, from his residence in Naravi, Dakshina Kannada district, Ashok said, “I was almost going to die. I was in the ICU for 15 days. Later, I thought I won’t be alive. It’s just because of god’s grace I am alive.”
When asked whether the BJP had informed him that his name was heading a list of karyakartas killed in the last 5 years, he replied saying that Shobha had called him to tell him that his name had appeared due to a mistake.
In her letter, she raised suspicions that Muslim organisations were involved in the killings of the activists and also accused the ruling Congress government of protecting the murderers.
The Congress government debunked the claims in a press conference fronted by Home Minister Ramalinga Reddy on January 24, 2018. He said that 14 of the 23 deaths had nothing to do with Muslim attackers, stating that the deaths occurred due to a number of reasons ranging from suicide to personal enmity.
Yet the list of 23 workers supposedly killed by Muslim attackers has become an integral part of the campaign speeches of BJP leaders in the run up to polls. Speaking at a rally in Udupi on May 1, PM Modi said, “It is shameful how BJP karyakartas were murdered in Karnataka. We are talking about enhancing 'Ease of Doing Business' in the country, but Congress believes in 'Ease of Doing Murder'. This is the culture they have developed”.
The issue has been raised especially in speeches made in the coastal districts of Dakshina Kannada, Udupi and Uttara Kannada, where incidents of communal violence are higher in number than the rest of the state.