After a day of chaos tied to the Supreme Court order asking Karnataka to release more Cauvery river water to Tamil Nadu, residents are left with more questions than answers.
Violence started with small groups of pro-Kannada protestors damaging vehicles bearing Tamil Nadu registration plates, but quickly escalated into a crisis that forced the state to invoke Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which prohibits unlawful assembly, and impose a curfew in certain areas on Tuesday, made the Centre send troops to the state and ultimately resulted in one death and hundreds of vehicles being burnt.
How did this happen in a cosmopolitan city such as Bengaluru?
Early on Monday, a video surfaced online, of a Kannadiga cab driver being beaten up by Naam Tamilar Katchi party workers in Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu and forced to say “Cauvery Tamilanakh" (Cauvery belongs to Tamilians). The footage of the forced statement—countering Karnataka’s “Cauvery Nammadu" slogan smeared on Tamil Nadu buses plying in Karnataka by pro-Karnataka activists—was broadcast incessantly by local news channels. Farmers and pro-Karnataka activists then started pouring into the streets of Bengaluru, Mandya and Hassan, among other districts.
First, only stray incidents of stone pelting and damaged windshields of Tamil Nadu registered vehicles were reported. But at around 11am, another video of a Tamil Nadu registered vehicle getting torched in Mysore was broadcast, followed soon by a truck set ablaze in Bengaluru.
The repeated broadcasts, sometimes without captions about when they happened, made it appear as though violence was spreading across the state fast and wide.
While many Bangaloreans were preparing for the Eid holiday on Tuesday, #CauveryIssue started trending on Twitter. The situation was volatile, but still under control.
By lunch time, social media erupted with news of the revised SC order, and the arrest of pro-Kannada protestors like Vatal Nagaraj who were arrested en route to Vidhana Soudha.
Rumours circulated about prohibitory orders in the city, which were quickly denied by the city police on Twitter. By now, small groups of bikers wearing red and yellow scarves were patrolling street by street to ensure the city is completely shut down. Many people tweeted that Metro rail services were suspended , while they were in fact operational. In fact, it shut down later.
Many citizens started worrying how they would reach home amid violence which seemed to be escalating.
“There have been a few cases of violence, but it’s OK (under control)," N.S. Megharikh, Bengaluru city police commissioner told Mint at around 4pm on Monday in Vikas Soudha where he and other top police officials were present to attend an urgent meeting called by home minister G. Parameshwar.
His confidence stemmed from the incident-free bandh on 9 September tied to the Cauvery issue and the presence of a larger-than-usual number of security personnel in the city.
That changed soon.
“We need reinforcements. Another vehicle has been set on fire. Send them quickly, people are gathering fast," said a voice on the police constable’s walkie talkie.
An hour later, Parameshwar announced that around 26 vehicles have been damaged and Section 144 imposed —albeit a little late in the day, literally.
By now, the Metro was shut. The number of protesters had multiplied, assaulting people, damaging property and setting vehicles on fire.
Vandalism exploded by 7pm. Television channels showed at least 30 buses getting torched at the private depot of a bus company owned by a man of Tamil origin.
Given that torching a bus is not that easy a task, it is still unclear how the mob could get away with such mass destruction. The fire took hours to be doused, keeping live footage of the inferno on air for long.
Nobody knows if it was the imposition of Section 144 or the forced shutdown of the city that caused it, but by night, there was peace.
Mint reporters who travelled from the city’s east end to the west at night were surprised to see the streets empty at a time when channels airing images of arson, violence and chaos.
How could a protest so violent disappear into thin air? We await answers.