The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Karnataka is facing a severe crisis as workers manning the BJP IT Cell have put down their phones and laptops to go on strike, in what is perhaps the first such protest in the party’s aggressive social media history.
As many as 166 social media personnel working out of Vijayapura and Bagalkote districts have tendered their resignations over the murder of Praveen Nettaru, a worker of the Bharatiya Janata Party's Yuva Morcha (BJYM), The Quint has gathered. More resignations are expected to follow on 28 July, IT Cell personnel said.
Earlier on 27 July, BJYM's Chikkamagaluru district committee members also resigned from their positions, citing government "inaction" over the murder as the reason for their disgruntlement. The BJYM is the youth wing of the BJP.
Praveen Nettaru was killed in Bellare of Dakshina Kannaga district on 26 July. The BJP, its affiliated organisations, including the Yuva Morcha, and other right-wing outfits like Sri Ram Sene and Hindu Janajagruti Samiti have accused the Popular Front of India (PFI) of having orchestrated the murder. The PFI has denied the charges and has asked its cadre to maintain peace.
'Disaster for Karnataka BJP'
Speaking to The Quint, Sandeep Patil, who was running the IT Cell in Vijayapura district, said the resignations were going to be a "disaster" for the BJP in the state.
"We (IT Cell) are the face of the BJP. We market the BJP. We are the backbone of the BJP," he said, adding that the Vijayapura and Bagalkote district IT Cells only showed the way for others. "In the next 24 hours, this is going to snowball," Patil, who has been a district social media convener for the past two years, added.
Karnataka BJP's IT Cell has about 3,300 personnel working for its well-oiled social media outreach.
What has irked the IT Cell is that "two Hindu workers" were brutally killed after Basavaraj Bommai became the Chief Minister of Karnataka. "When our party is in power in the state and the Centre, how can Hindu workers or BJP workers meet such a brutal end? This cannot go on. We need strict action," Patil said. A BJYM leader, whose colleagues had also resigned from their posts, said on the condition of anonymity, "The cadre is unhappy. We want the government to open its eyes at least now."
N Jitheesh, a BJYM district-level leader, who has not resigned from the outfit, said, "We want the culprits to be punished severely. We want the NIA to take up the probe into Praveen's murder."
According to the IT Cell workers, the BJP would lose face if they do not work. "If you have a cell phone and you cannot access its display, how will you make calls?" Patil asked.
This implies that the IT Cell workers believe the BJP cannot reach people if they stop working. The protest resignations will be a "marketing disaster" for the BJP, at a time when the state is heading towards Legislative Assembly elections in 2023, the workers think.
The BJP's IT Cell is a mammoth organisation, which has workers in every taluk of the state, in addition to district- and taluk-level coordinators. For those in the Cell, they produce news that can readily be consumed by those who are looking for information online.
"In India, a large majority of people consume news on social media. Information on social media is believed even over the information given out by the media. We further the interest of the BJP on social media by reaching maximum number of people," Patil said.
What caused the ire among BJP cadres, particularly the BJYM and IT Cell members, in the state?
'Unhappy With the Outcome of Harsha Murder Case'
According to those in the BJP's IT Cell and Yuva Morcha, the cadres need instant justice to believe in the party. Almost everyone The Quint contacted demanded "severe punishment for the accused."
Most demanded capital punishment for those behind the murder. The Karnataka Police are yet to nab the accused in the Praveen Nettaru murder case. Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, who completed one year in the state's top office, was even forced to cancel the anniversary celebrations.
But why the disbelief in the ruling BJP's efficiency?
Many are not happy with the outcome of the Harsha murder case investigation in which 10 Muslim youth were arrested. Harsha Jingade, a Bajrang Dal youth leader who hailed from Shivamogga, was killed on 20 February this year, in what was, at the time of the incident, believed to be a gang war-related murder.
While right-wing organisations and the BJP had accused PFI of funding and executing the murder, the state police had not found any direct link between the accused and the Muslim outfit. The National Investigation Agency is currently investigating the case.
The ground-level cadre of the BJP thinks that the accused in the case are "happily languishing in prison," though they were arrested shortly after the crime. "Murderers of Harsha were seen making video calls from inside the prison. Where is the justice?" a BJYM worker asked.
A few purported photographs and videos in which the accused were seen smilingly making calls from inside Parapana Agrahara Central Prison had gone viral in the first week of July, thanks to the BJP IT Cell.
"We are only demanding justice. We hope the party understands our demands and act accordingly," Patil said.
Yogi Adityanath's Penalty Methods Praised
At the heart of the discontent is also an endorsement of penalties imposed by UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. In UP, homes of Muslim protesters were razed using bulldozers, though the law does not provide for such penal measures. The BJP cadre in Karnataka is currently asking for the same kind of action.
"In UP, they have dealt with such culprits the right way. Why should it not happen in Karnataka?" a BJP worker asked. A majority of BJP workers believe that murders of "Hindu workers" would not have happened in UP.
The indication is that the ire raging in Karnataka BJP is also directed against Bommai's government. Basavaraj Bommai became the CM only in July 2021 after former chief minister BS Yediyurappa was forced to resign from his post owing to a rebellion within the party.
The BJP's national leadership is believed to have facilitated the move, ahead of the elections, to help the state unit get an acceptable leader. However, Bommai's term, too, has been one of turmoil for the party.
"We are not happy. Hand over the murderers to us," a BJP worker said. "There will be more resignations unless the party takes severe action against the accused," said Patil.