Bengaluru riots: A case of pre-planned violence or just dissent gone awry?

SDPI refutes accusation of having mobilised people for riot; state president says mob had already gathered when party leader Muzammil Pasha went to police to file a complaint against anti-Muslim Facebook post

City police commissioner Kamal Pant extended the prohibitory orders imposed in KG Halli and DJ Halli until the morning of August 21. Photo: PTI

Bengaluru Police have arrested nearly 200 people and filed seven FIRs in connection with the riots that broke out on August 11 in the city. Even as the forensic team is investigating the case, collecting information on the ground, Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai has called it a pre-planned riot and accused political outfit Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) of organising it.

The Karnataka government which ordered a magisterial inquiry into the riots, arrested SDPI local leader Muzammil Pasha and Kaleem Pasha, husband of city Corporator Irshaad Begum, alleging that they had organised the riots.

The riots broke out over a Facebook post by P Naveen, a budding politician and nephew of Congress MLA Akhand Srinivasa Murthy. The mob went irate and set fire to vehicles outside the Devarajeevanahalli (DJ Halli) police station after the police refused to register a case against the accused and delayed Naveen’s arrest.

Police personnel at the DJ station said the rioters demanded that the accused be handed over to them, a claim denied by the people who went to file the complaint. After the situation was brought under control, Police commissioner Kamal Pant said that they have arrested Naveen for his Facebook post. They imposed Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (illegal assembly of people) up to August 15.


How the crowd mobilised?

With a charged-up environment and curfew in place, silence and fear prevailed in the violence-hit areas. The residents, some of whom were witness to the stone pelting incident, refused to talk, fearing backlash from both the police and the political class. On the day of the riots, police estimate that around 2,000 people could have gathered near the area when the mob went berserk.

A short video clip accessed by the CCB, shows a group of people running with sticks, machete in hand at around 10.45 pm on August 11.

SDPI state president Ilyas Mohammed Tumbe claimed that neither the event of filing the case was planned nor did they mobilise people in large numbers.

“Yes, WhatsApp messages were forwarded to a handful of people so that we could gather strength to show the police about the seriousness of the inflammatory Facebook post. That was only for about 50-60 people and not 2,000 as claimed,” he said.

It is not clear whether the WhatsApp forward was about the controversial post or about gathering people.

When asked, how could then people in such large numbers gather in such a short time, Tumbe said when their leader Muzammil Pasha went to file the police complaint, the commotion had already set in and Pasha, in fact, had to announce on mike, borrowed from the police, for people to calm down.

The video of Pasha, appealing for peace, was widely shared on social platforms. In the video, Pasha is seen telling people that they were making an effort to get the police to register an FIR and requested them to maintain calm.

“The area is densely populated. Seeing some people outside the police station, others could have gathered hearing what happened,” Tumbe said. “The police are trying to frame us while we are the ones who appealed for peace.”

Irshaad Begum, the area’s corporator who is now in police custody, denied having organised the mob or having a role in mobilising people.

Bajrang Dal members took to the streets on Thursday demanding a ban on SDPI and PFI for their alleged role in the riots after the Central Crime Branch revealed that WhatsApp messages were forwarded among the SDPI groups before the riots.

Political rivalry and civic election

Reports emerged that political rivalry to sabotage the image of Murthy was on the cards and that all the parties including the BJP and SDPI were eying the area to gain control of the civic body elections.

Murthy denied the report, but however claimed that he was not on talking terms with his nephew Naveen for over 10 years now. According to the Boom live report, Naveen had posted similar messages in the past targeting the minority community.

Another speculation was that Naveen was eyeing a ticket for the civic body election and he could have deliberately posted his anti-Muslim view on Facebook to attract attention and gain Hindu support. Naveen had approached Murthy who was a JDS MLA back in 2015, seeking a ticket for the civic body elections. However, Murthy reportedly denied his request and fielded his wife Shailaja instead. While she lost the election, Murthy’s aides claim Naveen held a grudge against the MLA ever since.

The term of the current civic corporators ends in September. However, the state had made it clear that the polls will be deferred considering the COVID-19 pandemic situation in the state.