Karnataka has become the first southern state to suspend internet services. A government order has specifically pointed out that the internet services can be used to “inflame passions” in the coastal city of Mangaluru, where two persons have died and seven to eight persons are critical.
The two persons who died are alleged to have died in police firing but the Mangaluru police commissioner Dr PS Harsha has preferred to wait for the post-mortem report before coming to the conclusion that it could be due to police firing.
The police opened fire when a mob allegedly surrounded the Bunder police station and “even splashed petrol in one of the rooms” to set it on fire. But the timely police action had prevented the police station from being burnt down. Both the victims are in their 40s.
The unexpected violence in Mangaluru has made the state home minister Basavaraj Bommai suspect a “deep conspiracy” which, he alleged, was due to the entry of people from neighbouring Kerala into Mangaluru. These people are alleged to have created the conditions for violence.
But Karnataka’s two major cities – the state capital Bengaluru and the coastal city – have presented contrasting pictures in expressing their protest against the new law for Citizenship and the National Register for Citizenship (NRC).
Bengaluru saw the peculiar phenomenon of the police, initially, arresting some 250 persons from the time the protestors arrived at the Town Hall in the heart of the city. One among those arrested was noted historian and well-known critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Ramchandra Guha.
In his words, he was arrested in front of the Town Hall when he was telling a journalist the “relevance of (Mahatma) Gandhi.” As soon as the news of his being taken into custody for violation of prohibitory orders went viral, chief minister BS Yediyurappa sent a clear cut message to his police officers.
He made it plain that “goonda elements” should be arrested and not the common citizens. His statement, to an extent, put the brakes on the police strictly enforcing the prohibitory orders at the Town Hall and other places where the protests were happening in the city.
Suddenly the protestors were told to protest opposite the Town Hall which is the main junction for traffic to move from the Southern and the Western parts of the city to the Eastern parts of the city. The number of protestors only increased because the decision of the administration to impose prohibitory orders had also incensed the people.
“If the police had not decided late on Wednesday night to impose prohibitory orders, may be, so many people would not have come here to protest,” said social activist and environmentalist Leo Saldanha.
Saldanha made an interesting point. Protests that had taken place during the previous three-four days had been very peaceful. None of them had, in fact, seen the kind of response that was visible on Thursday. There were no social or economic strata of society which went unrepresented.
And all of them had the same demand. That “society should not be divided” and as one protestor had shouted from the police van after being arrested : “Yeh Bharat mera hai.” (This India is mine). It was the same spirit that was carried out in the next two critical steps which the protestors took.
The police, obviously, believed that the people would get tired of shouting slogans and following the template set by Kanhaiya Kumar for the entire country. That of making the demand and the supporters shouting “Azaadi” (Freedom).
Instead, the protestors remained undeterred. They spoke, they shouted slogans and the supply of bananas and water packets and oranges only refreshed them more to the chagrin of the police officers who were getting restive.
Finally the police officers had to get hold of the lawyers who had distributed themselves in the seven police stations where the arrested had been taken to. Their appeal was simple. Can you please get these people to disperse?
This was a strange demand from an unusual section of society, the lathi-wielding, helmeted, ready to attack, law enforcers. A quizzical look at one police officer during the course of a chat brought the answer that opened up a critical question.
“The problem here is that there is no leader for these people. So it is very difficult to deal with such a section. We need to show extra-ordinary patience,” said one officer whose identity cannot be disclosed.
Finally, when the lawyers and the social activists arrived on the scene, the protestors had just one demand. Please get all those arrested released. And the protestors did not budge an inch until they received confirmation from those arrested that they were no more detained.
In short, a ‘leaderless’ agitation appears to be far more difficult to handle for the law enforcement agency. It shows that the move to pass the new law for Citizenship has created a groundswell of opposition. As one of them put it, “it is very hurtful to be told we will not give you citizenship. If it hurts them today, it hurts us as well.”
But the protest was also peculiar for one more reason. As it became clear that they will have to disperse, it was a sight to watch a few bearded, white cap wearing individuals carrying bags and picking up all the peals of bananas and oranges and even a broken chappal.
Said one of them to the police inspector who frowned at him for making him move his lathi, “Saar, we dirtied the place, let us clean it up before we disperse.” Strange but as true as the mobile battery shutting down along with the power bank.
Strangely, when the internet services were banned in the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir, it did not even make some people in the south of India wonder how the Kashmiris managed for several weeks. Some even felt that it would happen to them as well. May be some day. But none probably expected it to hit them so soon.
One problem of Kashmir suddenly seems to have come down south.