Controversy has rocked right-wing circles in Karnataka, with Chaithra Kundapura, a known Hindutva activist, and six of her associates being arrested by the Bengaluru Central Crime Branch on 12 September for allegedly duping a businessman, Govind Babu Pujari.
Twenty-seven-year-old Kundapura, a former TV anchor who has ties to the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), allegedly orchestrated an elaborate scheme and defrauded 44-year-old Pujari of crores of rupees, the First Information Report (FIR) filed at the Bandepalya police station on 8 September stated.
Kundapura and her aides, supposedly 'flaunting' their proximity to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), allegedly promised Pujari a BJP ticket in the Byndoor constituency in the recently held Assembly elections.
They even allegedly hired actors to play RSS leaders in a bid to 'trick' Pujari into giving them money, the FIR accessed by The Quint stated.
But Kundapura isn't new to controversies or arrests. From making provocative speeches to participating in anti-Muslim rallies, her rise as the poster girl of Hindutva over the past few years has been staggering.
Here's all you need to know about the controversial figure and the cases she is embroiled in.
Hate Speech to Assault – The Making of Kundapura
Born in Kundapur, a coastal town in the Udupi district of Karnataka, the right-wing leader's Facebook bio claims she is a national executive committee member of the ABVP, the student wing of the RSS.
Kundapura studied journalism at Mangalore University and has worked at local news organisations like Samaya News and Spandana TV.
She has made several divisive speeches targeting minorities at events organised by right-wing groups like Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and has also been part of anti-Muslim rallies and campaigns, especially in coastal Karnataka.
Student agitation: Kundapura shot to prominence in the ABVP in 2015 after she led an agitation demanding justice for Rathna Kothari and Akshatha Devadiga, two students from PU College in Byndoor, who were found murdered under mysterious circumstances in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
Arrest for assault: In 2018, Kundapura and five others was arrested for assaulting a Hindu Jagarana Vedike taluk secretary, Guruprasad Panja, during a verbal altercation about conducting a ritual, as per The News Minute. Panja was attacked using a steel rod by one of Kundapura's aides.
She was booked under IPC 351 (assault).
Provocatice speeches: In October 2021, the Mangaluru Police filed a case against Kundapura for 'hate speech' at a Bajrang Dal and Durgavahini programme in Mangaluru's Surathkal. In her speech, she warned Muslims to "stop love jihad," and said: "If they continue with 'love jihad', Bajrang Dal workers will start doing the same with women from their community."
She also said they "will bring Muslim women out of their houses, make them remove their burqas and apply kumkum (vermilion) on them."
Book on love jihad: Kundapura has also written a book on 'love jihad' called Prema Pasha (Love Loop), which furthers the right-wing narrative that Muslim men 'trap' Hindu and Christian women through forced conversions, The News Minute reported.
Campaigning for BJP: In the run-up to the Karnataka Assembly elections held in May, Kundapura had campaigned for the BJP in north Karnataka.
What Is the Current Case?
Pujari, who lives in Bengaluru and is the managing director of ChefTalk Food and Hospitality, reportedly met Kundapura in June 2022 through a local BJP leader.
Pujari – who claims to be associated with both the BJP and RSS for years – was then introduced to Gagan Kadur, the Chikkamagalur Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) secretary.
Both Kadur and Kundapura promised him a BJP ticket for the Byndoor constituency, as per the FIR. They also claimed they have 'connections' in high places, including the Prime Minister's Office and the Union Home Minister's office.
In his complaint, Pujari alleged that the accused "manufactured" a character named Vishwanath ji, who they claimed was a prominent RSS leader in north India.
Pujari met the so-called RSS leader on 4 June 2022, who claimed he was part of the central selection committee for the BJP and RSS. He offered the ticket to Pujari for Rs 3.5 crore – and even promised to return the money if he doesn't get it.
Soon after their meeting, Pujari paid an advance of Rs 50 lakh to Kadur in Shivamogga. He was later told he was shortlisted for the Byndoor ticket.
Another person, Nayak, who claimed to be part of the BJP's central election committee, told him that he was finalised as the Byndoor candidate – and Pujari paid the remaining Rs 3 crore in October 2022, as per the FIR.
Several months later, in March 2023, Kundapura called Pujari and told him that Vishwanath ji had 'died' of respiratory issues in Kashmir. Suspicious, he made enquiries, and found out that Vishwanath ji doesn't exist.
In his complaint, Pujari alleged that Kundapura and Kadur hired an actor named Ramesh to play Vishwanath ji and a street vendor to play Nayak. They were allegedly paid Rs 1.2 lakh and Rs 93,000, respectively.
BJP Distances Itself From the Controversy
The BJP, however, has distanced itself from the controversy. Former Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai on Thursday, 14 September, said that the party "had no connection" with the case.
Speaking to reporters in Bengaluru, he said that the "truth would come out" after the investigation and that everyone involved in the case should be arrested
He added that the saffron party would seriously think about such elements misusing its image.
Apart from Kundapura and Kadur, the others arrested include Dhanraj, Srikanth, Prajwal, and Ramesh. They were booked under Sections 406 (criminal breach of trust), 419 and 420 (cheating),170 (impersonating a public servant), 506 (criminal intimidation), and 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).