Karnataka was shaken up a year and a half back when 37 churches in the state were vandalised. The following hue and cry attracted nationwide attention, and the first Bharatiya Janata Party government in south India came under fire for not protecting the interests of the minority Christians in Karnataka.
A commission of inquiry headed by Justice BK Somasekhara was set up and in his recent report, the former judge gave a clean chit to the BJP government, the Bajrang Dal and the Sri Ram Sene stating that there was nothing to indicate that they were behind these attacks.
The Christian community was obviously not amused and they set up a parallel fact-finding commission headed by Justice Michael F Saldanha, another former judge of the Karnataka high court. In his report, Saldanha squarely blames the Karnataka government for the violence.
In an interview with rediff.com's Vicky Nanjappa, Justice M F Saldanha says not a single incident of conversion has taken place in Karnataka. He further goes on to add that Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa holds public office and cannot continue to behave like a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leader.
Tell us a bit about your report.
I have basically held the government responsible for the fiasco. There are about 37 incidents that have been reported and seven have been of a very high level. In these seven incidents, there was a lot of violence and the police were the ones who added to this.
It was the police who turned violent in these incidents and hence I blame the state machinery for this.
The police were only doing their job, which is to control the mobs. Do you agree?
No, I do not agree with this. An operation of this magnitude cannot be undertaken unless there is a backing from the state government and I have pointed this out in my report.
There are various attempts to link the chief minister and then Karnataka Home Minister V S Acharya to the organisations who carried out the attack -- the Bajrang Dal and the RSS.
Why don't you look at the background of the chief minister and the Acharya? They are RSS pracharaks. When they hold official positions, they cannot subscribe to the views of the RSS.
This is just not done. These people had gone to Mangalore following the attack. But not a word of sympathy was expressed.
The home minister had camped at Mangalore, Udupi and Kalladka for a long time during that period. A very powerful person in the RSS resides at Kalladka and it is common knowledge that the CM and the HM go and prostrate before him over there.
How strong was the role of the Bajrang Dal in that incident?
Very strong, I would say. The Bajrang Dal has openly admitted to this incident and now the head of the outfit, Mahendra Kumar, says that he had been asked to do it.
The CM has a responsibility and he should have ensured that the people of the state were protected.
Now coming to the Justice Somashekhar report. What do you think of it?
When there are 37 incidents of attacks, how could he have given such a report? The report is not yet out in the open in full and some people who have glanced through this report say that all the material has been produced before the commission despite which such a report has been put out.
If you recollect, he had said in the interim stage that he blamed the saffron groups for this incident. Then what changed at the end of it?
In the interim stage he had blamed the government and the saffron groups. When he came out with the interim report, the CM had held a press conference and said that such a report ought not to have been given out.
He also went on to say that the judge shared it with the media before he could with the government. Justice Somashekhara then said that there was no harm in doing so.
The chief minister then goes on to say that this was a commission set up by them and they did not expect the report to go against them.
Further he also said that he would wind up the commission. When the CM resorted to such arm-twisting, Justice Somashekhara was shaken up and he wrote to the CM asking for time.
The threat to wind up the commission forced him to give out such a report.
All these aspects aside, what do you have to say about the charges of religious conversions in Karnataka?
I have dealt with the conversion aspect in detail. I have asked the CM whether there have been any complaints of conversion prior to September 2008. Have any cases been registered or are there any cases which are under investigation? I also went on to ask if there have been any convictions. There have been none.
However, post-2008, a few cases were filed and we got to know later that all these were false. So basically, these were cover-up cases.
Are you saying that there has not been a single case of conversion in Karnataka?
In this day and age, no one does things like this. Religion is a personal choice and people are too busy to do things like this. If there is a charge, then the onus is on them to prove it. Taking the law into their hands is not the solution.
What about the issue of foreign money being pumped in to fund religious conversions?
We have checked this aspect as well. If foreign money had come in, it would have been under the purview of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, and there is no such instance. Small sums have come in and these have not been misused. It has been used for the betterment of hospitals and educational institutions.
Would you suggest a ban on the Bajrang Dal and RSS?
No, I would not. That is not the solution. Regulating them would be the solution. The BJP can do it. It is a credible national party and the heads of the state have to exercise the power to control communal activity.
Do you think the minorities are insecure with the BJP government in Karnataka?
Minorities have never been as insecure as they are today. The Muslims are very heavily targeted in the coastal belt. The Muslim community is being singled out. This has never happened in the past.
Communal sentiment is out of control. The chief minister goes to temples and other mutts and announces large donations. Till date he has donated Rs 3,000 crore. Public money cannot be used like this. Why has he not donated it to other religious institutions?
What do you propose to do with your report?
The home minister's office never gives me time. They always say 'he is busy.' I intend giving it to the governor who, I hope, will pass it on to the chief minster. Let us see what happens then.