BJYM Leader's Murder: Is BJP Facing Saffron Backlash Ahead of Karnataka Polls?

BJP workers and right-wing outfits have been up in arms against the saffron party since the murder of a BJYM leader.

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The murder of BJP Yuva Mocha (BJYM) worker Praveen Nettaru in Karnataka’s Dakshina Kannada district on 26 July has triggered a wave of resentment amongst youth workers, many of whom have resigned from the party to express their disapproval of the ruling government. Most of them have spoken in one voice claiming the workers are left feeling “unprotected and unsafe” and thus finding it “meaningless” working for the party.

The debacle came at a time when Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai was all set to celebrate the first anniversary of his government. He hurriedly convened a press conference close to midnight on 27 July, announcing the cancellation of the event at the seat of power – Vidhana Soudha – in Bengaluru.

Further, on 28 July Bommai sounded beleaguered when he said he will consider bringing "Yogi Model government in Karnataka." Adityanath's government has been razing houses of Muslim protesters and those accused of crimes without any legal sanction for such action.

Will the growing unrest within the party affect the BJP's prospects in 2023 Legislative Assembly elections?


'No Faith in BJP'

BJP workers claim that Karnataka has been witness to a "spate of Hindu killings." On 20 February this year, a 27-year-old Bajrang Dal activist Harsha Jingade was murdered in Shivamogga. Earlier, in 2015, activist Vishwanath Shetty was murdered allegedly by PFI in Shivamogga. Similarly, a Bajrang Dal activist Prashanth Poojary was reportedly murdered in 2015 in Dakshina Kannada. The list goes on, they say.

BJP workers and right-wing outfits have been up in arms against the saffron party since the murder of a BJYM leader.

BJP workers protest as they attend the funeral rally of Praveen Nettaru. 

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

The BJP’s poll pitch during the 2018 Assembly election in Karnataka was action against the killers of “Hindutva workers." “The poll pitch has remained a empty with no action. No wonder, there is disappointment and anger,” said Jayaraj Poojary, a BJP worker from Dakshina Kannada, while speaking exclusively to The Quint.

Two days after Praveen’s murder, on 28 July, the police have arrested two youths – Zakir and Shafiq – in connection with the case. According to Dakshina Kannada district police, Zakir allegedly has links with the Popular Front of India (PFI).

“It has taken the police two days to act. We have no faith in the police. We want the government to constitute a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to investigate this case,” said Sharan Pumpwell, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader, to The Quint. As his government's "inaction" has come under criticism from both within and outside the party, Bommai is now on the backfoot.

BJP workers and right-wing outfits have been up in arms against the saffron party since the murder of a BJYM leader.

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

He said, "Yogi Adityanath is the right chief minister for the situation in UP. Here, there are other options too for controlling the situation and we have been trying out all of these. If required, we can bring the Yogi Model in Karnataka as well."

His last minute reassurance has not helped significantly.

There is no faith in the BJP too, added Nitesh Patel, a Bajrang Dal member. “This coastal district has seen several killings. I know many of them keep receiving death threats. There has been no concrete action so far. What’s the point of arresting small-time accused, when there are bigger leaders involved,” he remarked.

Though right-wing outfits have been claiming that they workers are under threat, the state police have not released any information regarding organised effort to target such workers.

Meanwhile, Nitesh Patel stressed that Hindu workers receive no support from the BJP that boasts of a large base of grassroot-level workers.


BJP To Be on the Backfoot in 2023?

The man who opened BJP’s account in southern India with Karnataka as the gateway was former CM BS Yediyurappa. With the Lingayat strongman out of the picture, the saffron party is relying on a new CM face, Basavaraj Bommai, to ensure victory in 2023. Internal squabbles and corruption charges faced by leaders like KS Eshwarappa haven’t augured well for the party that is seeking a second term.

“If there is no significant action undertaken by the government of Karnataka, we will launch massive protests and this will backfire for the BJP in the upcoming election,” said Bajrang Dal’s Nitesh Patel, speaking to The Quint.

Sharan Pumpwell too suggested that the BJP will have to re-strategise. “BJP’s inaction with respect to the many killings could prove difficult. It’s time for the party to think and then act in order to come back to power,” he commented. Meaning, the right-wing outfits want the BJP to clampdown severely on minorities in the state.

Not to forget that the state had recently witnessed massive protests demanding a ban on Hijab in educational institutions. This unrest had stoked communal tensions in different parts of the state.

“The Hijab issue became an extended arm of polarisation. While the BJP is sitting on the atrocity of communalism, the Congress is throwing its weight behind the hypocrisy of secularism,” said veteran journalist Ravindra Reshme."

Meanwhile, the Congress too seems to have come to the fore, demanding justice for the murdered BJP workers. “The BJP workers are upset and we stand with them. Be it Harsha’s murder or Praveen’s, there is growing resentment and the current government will have to face the consequences in the coming election,” said Congress Corporator of Mangaluru M Shashidhar Hegde, while speaking exclusively to The Quint.

Karnataka President of the Congress DK Shivakumar, meanwhile, stressed that his party does not want to politicise the issue. “We stand by the sentiments of the people, including the BJP workers, who claim that they haven’t been given any protection. It shows the face of this government,” he declared.


What's the BJP’s Plan of Action

Police sources suggest that Praveen’s murder could have committed in retaliation to the killing of a 19-year-old Muslim youth in the same area on 19 July.

“Around 15 people were picked up for questioning once the investigation was underway. The anger of the workers is understandable. When a worker needs to grow up the ladder, it takes years. Our party members are not paid workers, they work out of passion. And during such tragic times, emotions run deep,” said Araga Jnanendra, Karnataka’s Home Minister.

BJP sources told The Quint that the party aims to build the case against PFI by terming Nettaru's murder a “revenge killing.”

Soon after the murder came to light, right-wing leader Pramod Muthalik was quick to speak to the media and claim that SDPI and PFI are the ones behind this incident.

Karnataka CM Basavaraj Bommai resorted to assuaging tactics, promising to “take on extremists head on immediately.”

“I want to assure people that they (culprits) will not be spared. The anger of these people (BJP workers) is directed towards the incident and not against the government for this incident is a pre-planned conspiracy,” said Bommai.

With the crucial election fast approaching, Congress sources say that their party plans to make most of the trouble within the BJP. The BJP on the other hand think that the Congress will lose out because of leadership war between Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar.

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