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Animosity resurfaces in Hubballi

Police patrol in Hubballi on April 17, 2022. The city witnessed violent clashes on the previous night. | Photo Credit: PTI

Hubballi city in north Karnataka saw a communal flare-up on the night of April 16, the immediate trigger for which was an inflammatory social media post. Big crowds gathered in front of Old Hubballi station and the violence that ensued left 12 police personnel injured. Over 130 people have so far been arrested in connection with the incident. However, the incident has rekindled religious animosity in a city that had slowly shed the tag of being “communally sensitive” and had emerged as an important commercial hub.

While all the focus has been on the gathering in front of the police station, stone pelting and violence by the mob on April 16, there was a slow build-up to it, as the rest of the State too was seeing an escalation in communal incidents. During Hanuman Jayanti procession in Dajiban Peth area of Hubballi inhabited predominantly by Somavamsha Sahasrarjun Kshatriya (SSK) or the Pattegar community, laser beams of "Jai Sri Ram" were cast on the walls of a nearby mosque at Pendar Galli. The elders of both the communities had quickly intervened to resolve the matter.

Closer to the incident, only hours before the provocative video surfaced, four Sri Rama Sene activists had been released on bail in connection with the vandalism incident around the Hanuman temple in Nuggikeri. The Sene activists had ousted Muslim traders from around the temple and footage of them destroying a pile of watermelons being sold by an aged Muslim trader had gone viral.

Predictably, a political slugfest has ensued over the incident. The BJP is blaming the Congress for having a hand in instigating violence, while the Congress has categorically denied it. It has said that the Congress’s district unit president, who tried to help control the situation by climbing on a jeep and appealing for peace that night, has also been vilified and targeted. There are no signs of the ripples of this incident dying down too quickly, with Assembly elections less than a year away. The role of private television channels in constantly beaming communally-provocative content and keeping the issue alive cannot be undermined.

This incident and what has followed in the aftermath does not augur well in a city that still remembers the large-scale violence during the 1980s and 90s, which severely affected the economy of the region.

In fact, what has come to be known as the ‘Idgah Maidan row’ that reached a flashpoint in the 1990s played a crucial role in consolidating the BJP’s vote bank in Karnataka and particularly in this region. The Idgah Maidan is a small piece of land in the heart of the city, where the Muslims held prayers twice in a year and subsequently Anjuman-E-Islam staked claim to the land resulting in a litigation spanning over close to four decades. In the 90s, when the BJP was trying to find its footing in the state, the Idgah Maidan issue took centre stage.

In 1992, when Murli Manohar Joshi hoisted the tricolour in Srinagar on January 26, the Karnataka unit of the BJP had similar plans for Idgah Maidan in Hubballi, which however did not go as planned. Another attempt planned for August 15, 1992 was aborted later. On August 15, 1994 with general Assembly elections round the corner, the BJP made an attempt to hoist the national flag at Idgah Maidan and succeeded amid a curfew. The result was police firing and death of six persons. The BJP won all the three seats in Hubballi Dharwad area that year. In the subsequent years, the BJP has consolidated its position in the region.

While swift police action has prevented further escalation of the violence this time, efforts to rake up related issues is still on in Hubballi, which is a worrying sign.

girish.s@thehindu.co.in


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Printable version | Apr 24, 2022 12:43:46 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/animosity-resurfaces-in-hubballi/article65341866.ece