Building ‘anti-Hindu’ narratives again

The BJP is employing an old strategy to attack the Congress in Karnataka

July 19, 2023 12:15 am | Updated 11:17 am IST

Former Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai along with BJP leaders protest in Bengaluru against the murder of a Jain monk in Mysuru.

Former Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai along with BJP leaders protest in Bengaluru against the murder of a Jain monk in Mysuru. | Photo Credit: ANI

The BJP, which is yet to elect the Leader of the Opposition in the Karnataka Legislature, has been trying to build a campaign around two recent murders in the State. The BJP State unit has formed two fact-finding committees to probe what it terms “communal killings”, and has demanded that the cases be handed over to Central agencies. It has also complained to the Governor that “law and order has broken down in the State”.

On July 6, a Jain monk, who was heading an ashram in Belagavi in north Karnataka, was reported missing. Two days later, the monk’s associate, Narayan Mali, admitted to killing him. Mali led the police to the dismembered remains of the monk, which had been dumped in a borewell. Mali allegedly killed the monk with the help of Hasan Dayalat, who was hired for the purpose, over a financial dispute. Both men have been arrested. The BJP has been demanding a CBI inquiry into the case, alleging that the Congress government is “anti-Hindu” and cannot be trusted to deliver justice. BJP MLA Siddu Savadi even claimed that the Islamic State (IS) was involved in the murder.

The same week, Venugopal Nayak, 32, a member of Yuva Brigade, a Hindutva outfit, was killed in T. Narasipur in Mysuru district in south Karnataka. He was stabbed to death while organising Hanuma Jayanthi celebrations. The BJP alleged that the incident was “communal” and that Nayak was targeted for fighting for Hindutva. It argued that “the series of murders of Hindutva activists had returned to haunt the State.” There have been campaigns on social media comparing Karnataka to West Bengal. The BJP has demanded a probe by the NIA into the case. It has also claimed that the killers were associates of Sunil Bose, son of Social Welfare Minister H.C. Mahadevappa.

The police have ruled out any communal angle and arrested six people, all organisers of Hanuma Jayanthi in the same village, who had a tiff with Nayak over a trivial issue. Among those arrested is Shankara, the younger brother of BJP councillor from Mysuru City Corporation, M. Lakshmi.

The Congress has hit back at the BJP, arguing that the cases have been solved and the accused arrested. It has said that the BJP’s allegations are factually incorrect. The BJP’s campaign has failed to push the government to hand over the cases to central agencies. However, conspiracy theories, most of them accusing the Congress of minority appeasement and being “anti-Hindu”, continue to be posted on social media.

This is not a new strategy for the BJP. During its last stint in the Opposition in 2013-18, when Siddaramaiah was the Chief Minister, the party had built similar campaigns around several cases. However, the allegations did not stand after investigation by the CBI in at least three cases and by the Criminal Investigation Department in one case.

The BJP had alleged that former Home Minister and incumbent Energy Minister K.J. George was involved in the “murder” of IAS officer D.K. Ravi and in the abetment of suicide of Deputy Superintend of Police M.K. Ganapathy. The CBI probe concluded that Ravi ended his life over a failed relationship and that Ganapathy’s grouse against Mr. George was imaginary. It exonerated the Minister in both the cases. In another case, the BJP alleged that a group of Muslims “with jihadi mentality and links to the IS” had tortured and killed a man from the fisherman community in the coastal town of Honnavar, and claimed that this was part of a series of murders of Hindutva activists in the State. This was made a major electoral plank in 2018. The CBI ruled the death as “accidental” in 2022. In yet another case in 2015, the BJP alleged that a young girl was “gang raped and murdered” by Muslim boys in Thirthahalli, and accused the Congress government of covering it up. However, the probe revealed that the girl ended her life and was neither kidnapped nor raped. Despite these findings, the BJP leaders continue to refer to the case as a “rape and murder” case.

While most of these allegations fell flat, the BJP’s allegations fanned communal passions and created false narratives which the families of the victims and many from the State cling to, to this day. Significantly, it also paid electoral dividends for the party in 2018. The BJP has started a new innings in the Opposition benches, and the narratives being built around the new cases create a sense of déjà vu.

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