A Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) activist and a bystander died and several others, including policemen, were injured as violence broke out in Madikeri town of Karnataka on Tuesday over celebrations to mark the birth anniversary of 18th century Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan.
Police used teargas and batons to disperse hundreds of people following clashes between opponents and supporters of the celebrations. Officials said the VHP activist suffered head injuries and died instantly.
Madikeri is part of Kodagu district, which has been tense for the past few days over the state government’s plans to celebrate the 266th birth anniversary of Tipu Sultan. The VHP, RSS, Bajrang Dal and BJP have organised dozens of protests in Kodagu and other parts of Karnataka in the past few weeks.
Kodagu’s superintendent of police Varthila Katiyar told reporters that VHP activist DS Kuttappa died when he was being chased by police during the clashes. He allegedly slipped and fell when he tried to escape by climbing a wall.
Raju, a man who was being treated at the state-run district hospital for the past three days, was watching the violence from the hospital’s terrace when he slipped and fell to the ground and died, Katiyar said.
BJP leader Pralhad Joshi described the deaths as “state-sponsored murders” while Bajrang Dal leader Suryanarayana blamed groups supporting the state government’s Tipu Jayanti celebrations for the violence and Kuttappa’s death.
The statewide celebrations for Tipu Sultan’s birth anniversary are being held for the first time by the government. Several groups allied to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have opposed the events, describing Tipu Sultan as a “religious bigot” who tormented Hindus.
Watch: Violence over Tipu Sultan’s birth anniversary celebrations in Karnataka
The former ruler of the erstwhile Mysore state evokes intense fan following and hatred in equal measure.
Chief minister S Siddaramaiah blamed the BJP for the deaths and said, “They have been stirring up communal passions ever since the state government announced the Tipu Jayanti programme. They called a bandh to boycott a state government event in a clear attempt to stir violence.”
According to witnesses and police officers who spoke to Hindustan Times on phone from Madikeri, located 300 km from the state capital, trouble started early on Tuesday morning when hundreds of people started streaming into the town to attend celebrations organised by the district administration.
At the toll gate that serves as the entrance to Madikeri, Sangh Parivar activists set up a picket and refused to let anybody go to the deputy commissioner’s office, where the celebrations were to be held.
Some 4,000 people, who had come from nearby towns such as Moornadu, Hakkaturu, Virajpet and Kottamudi, were stranded on the outskirts of Madikeri after police barricaded the town.
According to police, clashes erupted in different parts of Madikeri by 10am. By noon, when Kuttappa died, police had a full blown riot on their hands.