Mumbai: The Bhartiya Janata Party-led Karnataka government has recommended the withdrawal of 46 cases of violence, mostly against BJP leaders, Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) leaders and several right- wing organisations, accused of being directly involved in violence that erupted around the birth anniversary celebrations of the 18th century Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan.
These cases – ranging from very serious forms of assaults on Muslims celebrating Tipu Jayanti to unlawful assembly – were registered across Karnataka between 2014 and 2018 when Congress’ Siddaramaiah was in power.
The recommendation, made on March 5 with the approval of state governor Vajubhai Vala’s office, has been in principle opposed by both the police and the state law department.
Among the cases recommended to be withdrawn include those registered against senior state BJP leader Sanjay Patil, VHP leader Swaroop Kalkundri, and several district level Bajrang Dal activists. Each of these persons are accused of direct involvement in violence, fanning communal tension in the state, making inflammatory speeches and derogatory comments on Tipu Sultan, and also ridiculing the then state chief minister Siddaramaiah in their speeches.
These leaders had delivered speeches that have had severe repercussions, some even leading to a full- blown violent attack on the members of the Muslim community in the state. Most of these cases are non- bailable and attract punishment over seven years.
While the Congress party in Karnataka lauded Tipu Sultan as a national hero, the BJP and its right-wing affiliates have weaved tyrannical stories of mass murder, torture and pillaging around the 18th century ruler of erstwhile Mysuru and demanded that he should be condemned.
Tipu Jayanti celebrations were first started at a wide scale by Siddaramaiah’s Congress government in 2015 amid strong opposition from the BJP. The first official celebration in 2015 was marred by widespread protests and violence in Kodagu district, leaving a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) worker dead.
The B.S. Yediyurappa-led BJP government has recommended withdrawal of these cases under Section 321 of the Code of Criminal Procedure on March 5. The recommendations, however, have been opposed by three crucial law enforcement departments – Director General and Inspector General of Police (DG & IGP), Director-Department of prosecution and Government litigation and Law department. While the DG & IGP has opined that these cases “cannot be withdrawn”, both the department of prosecution and law have observed that these are “not a fit case to withdraw”.
As per the procedure stated under Section 321 of the CrPC, the recommendation is placed before the court and the court uses its discretion depending upon the merit of the case and the state’s stand. State DG & IGP Praveen Sood, who has opposed withdrawal of these cases called these recommendations a “routine procedure”.
“Our department keeps receiving several such requests… petitions are made on a daily basis. There is a whole range of such petitions that my department receives. The investigating officers’ have used their wisdom to decide that these cases can’t be withdrawn,” he said.
While most cases mentioned in the list of recommendations were registered around November and had a direct link with the Tipu Jayanti celebrations, the state has also recommended withdrawal of a few other cases of protest and violence around the assembly session.
A contentious issue
Tipu Jayanti celebrations have been one of the most contentious political issues in the state. Every November, in the past decade, there has been a sharp spike in the cases of violence and communal speeches in different parts of the state. Days before and after the Jayanti, celebrated on November 10, Karnataka has continued to remain tense. In most districts, the administration has had to impose curfew to prevent the right- wing activists from participating in protests and vandalism of public property.
In one such incident on November 10, 2017, BJP’s two-time MLA (2008-2018) from Belagavi, Sanjay Patil, had allegedly insulted the then chief minister Siddaramaiah in a public rally. At a rally, organised to protest against the proposed Tipu Jayanti celebration, Patil had said that there was nothing wrong in sending the chief minister (Siddaramaiah) to Pakistan as he was unsure of his religious affiliation. He had asked for a DNA test of the Congress leader to establish his caste and religion. He had further warned of riots and bloodshed “when Hindus became aware of the injustice being done to them”. Decrying Tipu Sultan as the “rat of Mysore” and not the Mysore Tiger, Patil had sworn to wield swords to protect Hindus at the rally.
A case was promptly registered against him and Kalkundri at the Belagavi market police station under several sections of the Indian Penal Code including Section 153 (A) for promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc, and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony. In the recent recommendation, this is one of the three cases – all against BJP leaders and workers – recommended to be withdrawn by the state. Early this year, Patil was appointed as the BJP rural (Belagavi) district unit president.
Among other cases that the state government has recommended for withdrawal include attack on the working-class Muslim men in villages of Belagavi, Vijaypura, Hasan, Mandya, Kodagu, Chittradurga, Bangaluru, Uttara Kannada and Dakshina Kannada. Among them 18 cases are from Kodagu alone, filed over five years, some of serious physical attack and attempt to murder. A few cases are of vandalism and destruction of public buses and properties. In some places, postures and pictures of Tipu Sultan were defiled.
A mere day after the BJP came to power in July, last year, it has announced a state-wide cancellation of celebrations of Tipu Sultan Jayanti. Yediyurappa was clear, he did not want to eulogise any aspect of the 18th century ruler of erstwhile Mysuru. This decision was first proposed by K.G. Bopaiah, the BJP legislator from Virajpet in Kodagu.
The decision was challenged in the Karnataka high court by Bilal Ali Shah, who claims to be Tipu Sultan’s descendant, and two organisations, Tipu Sultan United Front and Tipu Rashtreeya Seva Sangha, Bengaluru. The court, in January, this year, gave state government eight weeks to reconsider its decision and to peruse voluminous records and literature on Tipu before issuing a fresh order. The state is yet to make any new decision on this.