Puneeth Kerehalli, accused of assault and murder of an individual transporting cattle in Kanakapura early on Saturday, first shot to recognition with his virulent speeches against minorities on Facebook a few years ago. He and a few other self-styled Hindutva fringe elements, who spearheaded last year’s communal campaign during the January-June period, were flagged by the State police as a “security concern”.
“Individuals who have had a social media base and are known to make provocative statements have now graduated to live streaming acts of violence against minorities. Many of them have also floated self-styled Hindutva groups to achieve a social profile. Puneeth Kerehalli is just one of them. Today, there are several such people cropping up even in districts that are not known to have a strong Hindutva presence,” said a senior police official. Mr. Kerehalli recently floated his own organisation Rashtra Rakshana Pade, which has carried out several acts of cow vigilantism.
A senior office bearer of one of the Sangh Parivar affiliates said since 2014, Hindutva as a cause had been enjoying great patronage and many outfits were cropping up. In fact, in every live-streamed video of a cow vigilante act, including the one from Kanakapura, Mr. Kerehalli appeals to people to support him financially to carry on the “struggle to save holy cows”.
The FIR that books him for murder also alleges that he demanded ₹2 lakh from the victims to let them go. “There is an ecosystem in the State today where people are ready to support those who claim to fight for Hindutva. While this is a success of the penetration of the ideology, there have been many elements without training in the ideology who are cashing in,” the office bearer said.
Need to nip in the bud
“Each problem that is left unaddressed only imbibes a level of impunity and leads to more problems. There are reports that he carries a taser, which speaks volumes of the impunity with which these elements are operating today. These trends should be nipped in the bud, and if it had been done, it would not have led to a murder today,” said a senior official who did not wish to be named.
“Records with the police seem to indicate that Puneeth has criminal antecedents. He has posted provocative videos on social media calculated to divide society. Thus there was adequate material and grounds for the police to take stringent preventive action, which could have saved Idrees’s life. Now that elections are announced, police should be extremely vigilant and deal with anti-social elements ruthlessly,” said former state police chief S. T. Ramesh.