Chief Minister Siddaramaiah appears to believe that all is hunky dory in two of Karnataka’s coastal districts even as the number of communal incidents under his government have risen.
The Chief Minister was responding to a question on the prohibition of televangelist Zakir Naik to Mangaluru to address a convention organized by the South Karnataka Salafi Movement.
Speaking to Times Now on Wednesday, Siddaramaiah said: “There is no communal problem in Mangaluru. But we will not allow anybody who will disturb communal harmony and will take stringent action.”
While there is evidence that there are various degrees of discrimination and violence of a communal nature in the region, there is little proof of stringent action by the Congress government under Siddariamaiah to curb the groups and individuals carrying out these attacks.
Rise in communal incidents
Looking at the reported incidents from 2005, there has been a 60 percent increase in a decade. From six reported incidents in 2005, the number has risen to 226 in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts which were once a single district.
In 2013, a total of 121 incidents occurred in the two districts. In 2014, there were 173 incidents and in 2015 the number rose to 226. One spike occurred in 2009, when 91 incidents were reported. That was also the year in which Sri Rama Sene activists assaulted women and men in a pub in Mangalore, earning the city international notoriety with even the New York Times reporting it. In 2008, only 33 incidents had been reported.
These figures have been compiled on the basis of media reports by Suresh Bhat Bakrabail of the Dakshina Kannada unit of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties.
In recent years, especially after the formation of the Popular Front of India, a twisted kind of competitive, tit-for-tat kind of cultural politics has played out in the region, with the RSS and PFI, along with other groups, vying for the attention of Hindus and Muslims respectively.
The most recent proof of this is the manner in which events unfolded after the South Karnataka Salafi Movement announced that Zakir Naik – the controversial Islamic evangelist – would speak at its three-day conference in Mangaluru.
Hindutva groups affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh announced that they would invite VHP’s International Working President Praveen Togadia to address a rally in the coastal city. After Mangaluru city police issued orders prohibiting Naik’s entry into the city in the first week of January, the VHP said it would call off its event with Togadia.
Responding to these developments, Home Minister G Parameshwara told Times Now that the government would review its decision in two months’ time, but without guarantee that Naik would be allowed to speak in the city.
But some time before that, for four days in November following Tipu Jayanti, at least 27 incidents of varying degrees of violence, including murder, were reported from the two districts.
While fundamentalists who claim allegiance to Hindu and Muslim fundamentalist groups carried out attacks, according to the PUCL report, there is enough preliminary evidence to suggest that the bulk of casualties were Muslims and that Muslims sustained more property damage than Hindus did.
A pan-Karnataka phenomenon?
In the last few months, communal tensions have flared up in several parts of the state such as Belagavi, Ballari, Bagalkot, Yadgir and Dharwad districts in northern and north-eastern Karnataka. All these clashes occurred over six consecutive days in September.
More recently, the state capital Bengaluru witnessed a major conflict in the Bhoopasandra area of the city. Muslims of the locality alleged that an RSS activist who is not a resident of Bhoopasandra instigated tension in the area. Dozens of people were injured and police had to fire tear gas shells to disperse the crowd.
Around the same time, some districts in southern Karnataka which have not seen violence since the Ramjanmabhoomi movement, too witnessed communal violence.
Even at the time of filing this story, prohibitory orders had not yet been lifted in Hospet of Ballari district, a place which is generally known only in two contexts: as the nearest town near tourist destination Hampi, and for being close to illegal mines.
It is rather ironical, that a man – the chief minister of a state, no less – who was threatened with beheading if he “dared” to eat beef, appears to think that there is no “communal problem” in Mangaluru, where it all started.