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Home / Analysis / Karnataka protests: Who was responsible for the violence in Bengaluru?

Karnataka protests: Who was responsible for the violence in Bengaluru?

Soon after the Supreme Court ordered Karnataka to release 15,000 cusecs of Cauvery water daily to Tamil Nadu, large-scale violence erupted on the streets. Bengaluru was taken over by fringe Kannada activists.

analysis Updated: Sep 23, 2016 10:12 IST
Anil BL
Anil BL
Tamil Nadu-bound buses were set on fire during a protest over the Cauvery water dispute, in Bengaluru.
Tamil Nadu-bound buses were set on fire during a protest over the Cauvery water dispute, in Bengaluru.(PTI File Photo)

September 12 was a day many Bangaloreans cannot forget. After news of the Supreme Court ordering Karnataka to release 15,000 cusecs of Cauvery water daily, reports trickled in that Kannada activists were going around localities and forcing shutters down.

Parents panicked after they got messages that their children had to be picked up from schools as buses would not operate. Television channels started beaming visuals of attacks on Tamil-owned establishments and Tamil Nadu-registered vehicles. Public transport services were withdrawn and arterial roads jammed.

On Mysore Road, the highway that leads out of Bengaluru and intersected by the Outer Ring Road and on a tolled highway called Nice Road, Tamil Nadu-registered trucks were being targeted. In full view of rolling TV cameras, protesters flagged them these trucks, assaulted their drivers, broke windshields and set them afire.

That day, more than a 100 vehicles were burned down. The cosmopolitan Bangalorean was shocked -- it was the day the fringe had taken over the city.

But who are these fringe groups? Who was behind the large-scale violence? It is largely believed that they are Kannada activists.

Chief among them is activist Vatal Nagaraj. He is Bengaluru’s original pro-Kannada activist but does not have a rowdy following. In fact, he has been an MLA several times from Chamarajanagar district till people got tired of his antics. He gets good press because his forms of protests are innovative: he brings farm animals, drums, and cycles and is good on empty rhetoric as his speeches can be lapped up but not inspiring enough to make an onlooker pick up stones. The only time he probably found support of the average Bangalorean was when he declared that he would collect bottles of urine and throw it in front of the chief minister’s office as a form of protest to stop people urinating in public and asking the government to build more public urinals. There is an old joke that if Vatal removes his trademark black hat, nobody will recognise him. But, he has his band of supporters and cannot be wished away.

Pro Kannada activists were arrested for trying to stage a protest over the Cauvery dispute, at Gandhinagar in Bengaluru. (PTI Photo)

Then there are two factions of Karnataka Rakshana Vedike (KRV), a forum to “protect Kannada language and its people”. Originally founded by TA Narayana Gowda, it split into two with the breakaway faction led by Praveen Shetty. Both men are aggressive, can collect small groups at short notice and be vociferous in their protests. They are bold enough to smash panes and people and are not scared of the police.

Then there is Muthappa Rai, a reformed goon who has political ambitions and has formed group called Jaya Karnataka. He too has a sizeable following but the group is not aggressive.

So which of these groups were behind the mindless violence that Monday?

When national TV reporters tracked them down, none of them owned up.

Police now say the woman who allegedly led a mob to burn down 42 buses of transport company KPN at an unguarded parking lot was apparently biriyani and given Rs 500 to do the job. But, this is typical of police propaganda to pin the blame on hapless individuals while the leaders who instigate the riots get away scot-free.

The KRV evolved as there was a chink in Vatal Nagaraj’s armour: the taste of raw violence when faced with adversity. It was good for unemployed local youth or those with jobs driving autorickshaws.

Over the years KRV has vandalised many properties and played a role in every Cauvery-related riot and was instrumental in bashing up Marathi activists who wanted to merge Belgaum with Maharashtra. In fact, that’s what their website proudly states under a sub-head listed about their achievements.

KRV members drape themselves with trademark yellow and red scarves -- the colours of the Karnataka state flag. The two KRV factions have little to differentiate them, apart from their egos. They are into real estate and operate autorickshaw stands in the city that are either adorned with their boards or if space permits, a flag post with the Karnataka flag.

The KRV is so strong that even government departments fear them. The Bangalore Development Authority got into trouble for paying KRV Rs 2.5 lakh as donation and a police case has been registered against BDA finance officials for sanctioning the sum. “That they take donation, a euphemism for extortion; it is not a secret. They are capable of `settling’ cases in favour of a particular person. At one stage, they became so bold that they used to call up Congress party leaders demanding why so and so had not been given tickets to contest? Can you imagine a fringe group interfering in a national party,’’ said a state minister who didn’t want to be named.

The KRV factions say “outsiders” in Bengaluru have to learn Kannada, but the only lesson they can impart is a thrashing.

Men make their way past a burning lorry in Bengaluru. (Reuters File Photo)

They have not spared even IT companies in India’s Silicon Valley. There are more than three instances when such companies were targeted when their employees allegedly made comments on social media about Kannada speakers.

In 2008, KRV activist attacked candidates from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh appearing for a railway exam in Karnataka.

Not to be left behind is Muthappa Rai, who started Jaya Karnataka, a group he started to give legitimacy to his business and to help him in his political ambitions. Rai, a former Syndicate Bank employee, took to crime and later moved to Dubai.

From there he controlled a gang who would bump off those who did not fall in line while he ran an extortion and real estate racket. However, he wanted to reform and allegedly struck a deal with the powers-that-be in Karnataka and was extradited from Dubai in 2005.

Living in an isolated but well-guarded farmhouse, Rai cleared his name first and then started his real estate business. He was either discharged or acquitted in every heinous crime he allegedly was part of and the state never appealed to a higher court. Ironically, today his office-cum-hotel shares a boundary wall with the Intelligence Bureau office in Bengaluru which once kept a tab on him and his activities.

Probably they do even now as he has made his political moves. He started Jaya Karnataka but could not get hold of a credible issue and capitalise on it. He started a magazine that folded up soon. Now, he owns Praja TV, a Kannada news channel.

But, if all these pro-Kannada activists who are virulently anti-Tamil had not orchestrated the riots, then the poser to the police would be: Who did it? Its nobody’s case to find out. Till the next mob gets all fired up. And this week has given them another opportunity as the Supreme Court has ordered the release of 6,000 cusecs of Cauvery water daily while Karnataka says it faces a drought.

Police arrest Kannada activists who were trying to enter the railway station to stop trains during their protest over Cauvery water issue, in Bengaluru. (PTI Photo)

The author is a freelance journalist in Bengaluru. The views expressed are personal.

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