Bengaluru: A mob protesting the death of a 21-year-old man, alleged to be a right-wing activist, set Inspector General of Police (IGP), western range (Karnataka), Hemant Nimbalkar’s car on fire, in Kumta (Uttara Kannada district), about 460 km from Bengaluru, on Monday.
Paresh Mesta was found dead under mysterious circumstances on Friday in Honnavara, two days after he went missing.
Vinayak V. Patil, superintendent of police, Uttara Kannada district, on Monday said that subsequent social media messages about the cause of the death of Mesta and circumstances under which he was killed (including evidence to suggest he was tortured) had caused outrage in the region, leading to widespread protests. However, the police denied BJP’s claims that Mesta was tortured.
The incident was allegedly given communal colour when Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member of Parliament Shobha Karandlaje issued a statement on Friday, accusing Karnataka chief minister K. Siddaramaiah of turning a blind eye on attacks against workers associated with saffron outfits.
The latest incident puts the spotlight back on coastal Karnataka—one of the more communally sensitive regions in the state—which has witnessed several attacks and murders from both right-wing and minority groups.
Heading into elections, the BJP has championed the cause of right-wing groups in the regions to corner the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government and reiterate its claims that groups like the Popular Front of India (PFI) and Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) were given a free hand under the present rule.
Patil said they have arrested a few people in connection to Monday’s incident and will take a call on whether prohibitory orders should be issued or not. He added that the police would get better clarity on the death and associations of Mesta after all the reports would come in.
BJP state president and former chief minister B.S.Yeddyurappa on Monday accused the state government of using force to disperse peaceful rallies in the region protesting the death of Mesta. “We will intensify the protests, give a memorandum to the (Karnataka) governor and meet with Union home minister and appraise him of the situation," Yeddyurappa said.
However, the Karnataka police later in the day issued a statement to debunk the BJP’s claims that Mesta was tortured.
“An official press release dated 9 December was issued by a political party with respect to death of Paresh Mesta through which blatantly false information without any authentication was shared to media and public," IGP Nimbalkar said in a statement.
The police also put up the forensic report of Mesta which states that there was no evidence to suggest that he was tortured as alleged by the BJP.
“Thereafter, through various absolutely false social media messages based on the above mentioned press release, a deliberate attempt is made to divide the society on communal lines and flare the communal sentiments for personal gains," the police said.
The police said that action will be initiated against abetting communal incidences at Honnavara, including assault on a senior police official.
The BJP had carried out a “Mangaluru Chalo" bike rally on 8 September in the coastal district to take up the cause of attacks against members of right-wing organisations. The BJP had earlier stated that 23 people associated with right-wing organisations were killed since September 2015.
Karnataka home minister Ramalinga Reddy on Monday said there was an attempt by the BJP to communalise the death of Mesta before elections.
“How does the BJP know that it was a murder and by whom before the post mortem report comes in. All this is being done with an eye on elections," he said.
Reddy referred to a video posted by Mysuru-Kodagu MP Pratap Simha, in which the latter purportedly says that his high command had asked him about how many protests the state unit had carried out where the police had to use force to disperse crowds. The remarks had caused huge uproar with the Congress alleging that the BJP was deploying all its resources to create a tense atmosphere in the state by inciting violence and communal clashes.
Reddy said the police was taking all precautions against such incidents and flaring up of communally sensitive issues.