As yet another terrible spectre of communal conflict raised its ugly head on Friday, the country was stunned. Not because of the intensity or the reason behind the violence, but because the epicenter of the communal flareup was not some town in rural north India.
It was the very cosmopolitan and progressive Bangalore, considered India’s showcase city.
Two days of mob fury later, the city is slowly limping back to normalcy with its image having taken a severe beating and leaving behind a tragically divided society.
But what led to the indiscriminate violence that so severely marred the reputation of India’s future city?
Trouble began on Sunday afternoon right next to the ongoing convention of the Virat Hindu Samaj Utsav. The mob went around burning buses, damaging other public and private property and pelting stones at different targets.
Mob violence also rocked the Shivaji Nagar and Bharati Nagar areas on Friday after clashes during a demonstration against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s execution. The violence left at least 20 persons injured.
Police had to fire in the air to disperse a violent crowd prior to a massive rally by the Muslim community.
So are Muslim leaders exploiting Saddam Hussein’s execution? On the panel to discuss the issue with CNN-IBN’s Sagarika Ghose were Congress leader and President of All India Muslim Mjlis-e-Mushawarat Syed Sahabuddin; and Karnataka’s former Director General of Police, BS Sial.
Why did the police fail?
Why did the Bangalore police fail to control the situation? When the Saddam Hussein rally took place on Friday, why did they allow a Hindu mahotsava to take place two days later, when the situation was still communally sensitive?
Sial shrugged off the question, citing a personal reason. “I have been down with fever for the past two days so I haven’t been keeping a tab on the goings on and moreover, we have been busy shifting my residence, so I cannot comment on the issue.”
While Sial carefully dodged all questions on police (in)action on that day he said he was sure of the police action. “I am sure police did their best. It’s very easy to blame the police but jobs are difficult.”
The Muslims of Karnataka are far better placed than their counterparts elsewhere in the country.
According to the Sachar report, their population is 11 per cent (of the state’s total); their share in government is eight per cent; very few of them go to madrassas; most Muslim women go to schools; and the Kannadiga Muslim is certainly not like the UP Muslim.
Why create anger and fear among Muslims?
Then why, in this day and age, is someone like C K Jaffer Sharif – a Muslim candidate who has won for seven years – trying to create anger and fear by taking out rallies against Saddam’s execution?
Syed Sahabuddin replied to the question in a rather round-about manner. “I was once a candidate against Jaffer Sharif in north Bangalore. So I know the area pretty well. It is true that Muslims of Karnataka in general and of Bangalore in particular are different are better off. They participate in government primarily because Moily (Veerappa) gave them reservation as a community. The point is this was not a situation specific to Bangalore. However, I can’t look into his (Jaffer Sharif’s) mind. The fact remains that it wasn’t him or his party who organised the rally. The rally was organised by a conglomerate of old Left front. It wasn’t just him, but many people, non-Muslims, Christians, Dalits – Bangarappa for example – were part of it. It was considered to be a cosmopolitan rally with a largely anti-American sentiment that’s a pattern being seen all over the country. But nowhere have I seen such clashes. The fact is that there was no clash on Friday,” he said.
But whether it’s the Saddam controversy, the Danish cartoon or Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, the question remains as to whether the Muslim community really feels for these issues or is it the leaders who keep whipping them up?
Is it BJP’s agenda?
The BJP came to power in Karnataka last year marking the beginning of, significantly, the party’s rule in southern states. Why is it that within the period, communal riots are being witnessed?
At this point, BJP MLA from Bharthinagar, Nirmal Kumar joined in the debate. ”This is nothing to do with BJP coming to power. The event was the 100th birth anniversary of our guruji, the sanghsanchalaka and it’s being celebrated in over 9,000 places across India. Everywhere thousands of people gathered and according to our estimates, nearly 10 crore people gathered.”
But must the BJP have invited VHP leader Praveen Togadia, who in Mysore made inflammatory anti-Muslim statements? Did this not add fuel to fire?
Kumar went on the defensive and said, “You must ask the organsisers as to why Praveen Togadia came to Mysore. He is a senior leader and there is no rule that he should not come or visit any place.”
So, is the BJP in Karnataka dividing societies – on the lines of Gujarat perhaps – in what can be considered a narrow-minded quest for votes?
An infuriated Nirmal Kumar put the blame back on the Congress. “We are trying to unite the society and have been successful so far. We have never tried to divide the society. It’s Congress and other parties that divide people for minority vote bank,” he said.
Sahabuddin responded cautiously to the allegation. “It’s nothing specific about Bangalore. It’s part of an all-India, rather a world phenomenon that Muslims are protesting everywhere,” he said.
Therefore, if that’s the case, then why doesn’t someone like Jaffer Sahrif campaign for the development of Muslims, or their education or women’s rights? Isn’t he, in a way, heightening religious identity?
“He has done a lot for his constituency. But at this point of time, he could not keep himself aloof. There’s a sentiment against America all over the country. There is also a feeling among the Muslims that, very frankly, the Government of India’s protest about the manner in which Saddam was hanged was rather soft,” said Sahabuddin.
’Nothing wrong with raising a voice’
Sahabuddin also said that if Muslims stood up and raised their voice against Saddam’s execution, there was nothing “terribly wrong with it.” “If the RSS wants to celebrate someone’s birth centenary, I don’t object to it either and every group can voice its feelings in public,” he said.
Sahabuddin also raised a question for ex-DGP Sial. “My only question is that is the Karnataka police conscious of the growing distrust within the Muslim community and police that results in (situations like) these? For example, when police presumably post a force in a Muslim mohalla with a view to protect is against a possible attack, the Muslims distrust it and throw stones at them. Why can’t a police control a mob in such situations in the softer manner than fire bullets at them?”
Sial continued to maintain his stand of not having been able to monitor the events. “I am sure the circumstances must have been compelling enough for the police to open fire.”
The Sachar committee report has come up with serious statistics. Are we trying to say that the Muslim in India cares more about Saddam Hussein than his education or standard of living? Why is the leadership dragging the average Muslim into the Saddam row?
“I am sure India has got everything. But one must not forget that Muslim community is an sinternational community. Therefore, anything big that happens in th
e Muslim world always has a reaction in India. This reaction can express itself in a much peaceful manner. Why should it turn into violence? But the fact remains that on Friday there was no violence and on Saturday there was no reaction. It was only a mis-judgement on police’s part on Sunday that it posted force on a wrong pint,” Sahabuddin summed up his opinion.
Why is it that a communally-sensitive area like Bharthinagar or Shivaji Nagar should have a rally on Saddam Hussein. “It’s up to the police to give a licence or not to,” argued Sahabuddin for the last time.