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Karnataka is a state in danger from itself
Aditi Phadnis
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July 16, 2007

Law and order is always the first casualty of bad governance. If a state like Bihar, where crime was still low-tech and unsophisticated, could produce dons like Shahabuddin over 14 years, imagine what organised terror could do to a thriving developed state like Karnataka with a nuclear installation in Kaiga, a major naval base in Karwar and a handful of mining industries in Bellary -- in addition to institutions like Infosys [Get Quote], the icons of our times? And with a chief minister like HD Kumaraswamy and a home minister like MP Prakash?

In just three years, Karnataka, where till a decade ago communal violence was unknown, has had a clutch of communal riots, a violent shootout at the Indian Institute of Science and a serious heightening of communal  tension. The Bharatiya Janata Party is a participant in the government of a chief minister who is busy with image-building.

Twice postponed, a coordination meeting of state police officials took place only when the chief minister could take time off his busy schedule, releasing books and attending get-togethers. The home minister told the Karnataka Assembly, after preliminary police inquiries had been made into the Bangalore angle of the attempted bombing at the Glasgow airport, that "Kafeel Ahmed, his brother Dr Sabeel Ahmed and their cousin, Dr Mohammed Haneef, are into jehadi movement (sic) as they had been indoctrinated. They (had) attended some meetings and delivered provocative speeches in the city."

This statement inspired very little confidence, especially as the state police bosses denied immediately that there was any connection between the three brothers and al Qaeda, and declined to name any organisations with which the brothers may have had contact.

Think about it. Three persons -- who are Indians but have foreign visas -- visit Bangalore several times, according to the home minister, deliver provocative speeches in the city and the home/intelligence department does nothing about it? They then just return to their places of work abroad, plan a suicide bombing and manage to actually carry it out partially.

Possibly having given warning of it in Bangalore? We now know from British sources that these men may have had some connections to the Tablighi Jamaat, an organisation founded in India 75 years ago to provide religious moorings to upper-class Muslims who were in danger of becoming anglicised during the freedom movement. The Tablighi Jamaat is a non-political organisation although the American justice system does not think so and has prepared indictments of several in detention at Guantanamo Bay on the basis of their affiliation to this body.

Now, understandably, the community is worried. Statements by the home minister have obviously not helped in reassuring Muslims in Karnataka, who are bewildered and fearful. The chief minister and the home minister have to consider what they are going to do about what is clearly an intelligence failure.

The state government is only now talking about strengthening the intelligence wing. But a government that gives its intelligence officers a Rs 500 allowance for mobile telephones can't seriously imagine it will be able to check terrorist incidents before they happen.

But the real, much more frightening problem is that there is no one fighting communalism in Karnataka. The BJP can see that there is potential for it to grow around the "Hindu in danger" theme. Thankfully, it is, for the most part, a deeply divided entity in the state with two (or more) factions headed by Yediyurappa and Anantha Kumar so much at odds with each other that the real damage is being done by local VHP gangs, easily snuffed out if the administration puts its mind to it.

The Janata Dal (Secular), the ruling group, is yet to become a party. It is for the moment still a movement that has little or no support in north Karnataka. In the Hassan-Mandya region, where H D Deve Gowda has some presence, the party has some resonance. In the next assembly elections in 2009, it is hard to see where the JD-S will win from.

The Congress? Having indiscriminately allowed the late Ramakrishna Hegde's supporters into the party, the leadership has not bothered to set up an executive that will represent all the groups that now exist inside the Congress. There is no incentive for the party to function as one entity -- instead it has become an arena for factions each jockeying to gain supremacy over the other.

When riots occurred in Mangalore last year, not a single fact-fighting team from the Congress went there, although it has been an area dominated by Veerappa Moily for years. It was only after the central party sent a message that state party chief Mallikarjun Kharge went for a visit.

When in crisis, the party is so inert how can anyone expect it to go out in town and village when things are normal, campaigning around issues of communal and ethnic harmony?

Expect no dramatic administrative moves from HD Kumaraswamy. He and his team are hardly a set of statesmen. But the Congress, with its minority affairs ministry and its 14-point minority welfare programme and a prime minister who can't sleep because the minorities have been endangered on his watch... you do expect such a party to be proactive when a communal conflagration occurs. And when it doesn't act, the question has to be asked: whom does the Congress really represent?

Karnataka is a state in danger from itself -- its government, its politicians and its bureaucracy. It needs urgent rescuing.

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