As Karnataka gets ready for Assembly elections this year, the rhetoric there is getting shriller, with charges and counter-charges flying thick and fast. The Bharatiya Janata Party is holding the Popular Front of India (PFI) responsible for the murder of its workers there, and is accusing the Congress of allowing PFI to flourish in the state. However, the state leadership of Congress denies all the charges.

Ganesh Gundurao, working president of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee, while speaking to The Sunday Guardian said, “A few murders have been communally motivated. But BJP is trying to use every murder for political mileage by making it into a Hindu-Muslim issue. A man died. That is a law and order issue. The police reacted in time and arrested the men in a short period. Our police is not being complimented for that. Instead, allegations are being made against us.”

“The real fight is between PFI and BJP. In-fighting among their various branches has also led to deaths of their own men. Congress condemns all right-wing outfits like PFI, RSS for violence. We do not support any of them,” said Gundurao.

The face-off between Congress and BJP restarted after Dinesh Rao, a 28-year-old man was found dead in the Dakshina Kannada district. Rao’s murder was the second within a month following Paresh Mesta’s murder in Honnavar. BJP said that both were murdered because they were Hindus, while Congress denied the charge. 

The coastal Karnataka districts are communally sensitive and have witnessed several murders and attacks.

According to Karnataka Home Minister Ramalinga Reddy, those arrested in the Rao case are Naushad, Pinky Nawaz, Rizwan and Nirshan. Maintaining that there was no intelligence failure, he said it is difficult to get specific information in cases of “organised crime”. Reddy said that 19 people associated with the BJP, RSS or Bajrang Dal have been killed in the state over a period of time but added that in at least eight cases, the reasons were personal.

“I checked and found that 11 BJP/RSS/Bajrang Dal workers were killed confrontation with Popular Front of India,” Reddy said. “The rest were murdered due to personal reasons related to property disputes and old rivalry. Those eight were indeed RSS members but the reasons were different,” the minister claimed. He said six PFI workers lost their lives. 

Countering Congress’ claim that the real fight is between PFI and BJP affiliates, Dr Vamanacharya, state spokesperson of the BJP unit of Karnataka said, “There were 175 cases in which 1,600 people related to extremism were involved, but all cases were withdrawn after Congress came to power. This sends the message that this government is pro-Taliban. These disruptive elements were operating in the coastal areas. If you look at the murders, there is a pattern. There is a systematic way that these murders have been carried out. Congress has created an atmosphere in which Taliban-like forces get a free run. They do not get caught and even if they get caught, the cases are withdrawn. Congress is hand in glove with these extremist groups.” 

“We agree that all the murders that have taken place are not communal. But Congress itself admitted that out of 23 cases, seven murders took place due to personal motives. So what about the rest 16 murders? Who will probe them? Congress says this is a simple law and order problem. Even so, then who is responsible for maintaining law and order in the state? The police arrested four men in Rao’s murder and wants to be complimented for that, but Congress is responsible for creating an environment where such murders are taking place. There is nothing to compliment them on,” Dr Vamanacharya added.

While BJP is raising the issue of numerous murders that have taken place in the Congress regime, the Congress is preparing for Rahul Gandhi’s visit, likely after 20 January. Other than holding big rallies, Rahul Gandhi will meet student groups, farmers’ associations and some industrialists. 

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