The BJP was in for fresh embarrassment on Sunday as the party’s Karnataka unit inducted controversial Sri Rama Sene leader Pramod Muttalik, only to set aside the decision within hours following public outcry and objections by party leaders.
Muttalik’s extreme right-wing group, affiliated to the Sangh Parivar, is infamous for its role in a January 2009 attack on women at a pub in Mangalore for “protecting Hindu culture”.
Muttalik was welcomed into the BJP at an official function in the north Karnataka town of Hubli on Sunday afternoon by state party chief Prahlad Joshi. After the function, also attended by former chief minister Jagadish Shettar, Muttalik said he was joining the BJP to make Narendra Modi the prime minister.
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However, within hours, Muttalik’s induction was withdrawn. “Due to various reasons, induction of Pramod Muttalik has been set aside under central party direction by state president Prahlad Joshi,” BJP spokesperson S Prakash said in an official communication.
With Muttalik being a controversial figure on several fronts, including being an ardent admirer of Nathuram Godse, the killer of Mahatma Gandhi — a subject to which some of the political rhetoric has veered this poll season — the BJP national leadership feared the induction would harm its Lok Sabha poll campaign. The BJP and RSS had recently taken strong objections to Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s allegation of Sangh links in Gandhi’s assasination.
Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, who was in Nagpur to campaign for the BJP, was the first to oppose the induction of Muttalik. “They shouldn’t do it, his membership should be cancelled. I have asked the central leadership that he should not be allowed to join,” Parrikar said.
BJP general-secretary in-charge of Karnataka Thawarchand Gehlot took up the issue with Prahlad Joshi. “There was no prior discussion with the central leadership on this. I spoke to the state unit chief and told him that the central leadership does not accept this induction,” Gehlot told The Indian Express.
Muttalik, who has been demanding a BJP ticket from Belgaum in north Karnataka, was inducted after he threatened to file his nomination from Hubli. Prahlad Joshi is the sitting BJP MP from Hubli and it was feared that Muttalik would cut into Joshi’s votes in a region that has a strong right-wing presence.
Apart from Prahlad Joshi, party sources saw the hand of former deputy chief minister K S Eashwarappa in Muttalik’s induction.
“Muthalik had demanded an Assembly ticket last year. This time he was demanding a Lok Sabha ticket from seats such as Dharwad, Belgaum or Udupi-Chikmagalur. It was rejected by the state unit. He had been in touch with Eashwarappa and, through him, sought unconditional entry to the BJP,” a party leader said.
A state unit party leader defended not keeping the BJP central leadership in the loop. “Generally, only when someone is joining the party with conditions like ticket etc does the central leadership need to be informed and consent taken,” the leader said, adding that Muttalik was joining unconditionally.
Muttalik had been among the 28 members of the Sri Rama Sene arrested for the 2009 pub attack, and was accused of instigating the men.
Belgaum-born Pramod Desai Muttalik was a member of the Bajrang Dal before he was expelled in 2004 following disquiet over his personal ambitions.
Once out of the Bajrang Dal, Muttalik sought out other Hindu right-wing platforms with similar radical views, and a brief association was forged with the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, bordering his hometown Belgaum.
Later Muttalik floated the Rashtriya Hindu Sena as a national outfit and created a sub-outfit to operate in Karnataka alone called the Sri Rama Sena. Muttalik has also featured prominently in photographs of alleged secret training camps on use of guns conducted for extreme right-wing groups.
Muttalik was investigated by the Maharastra ATS in 2009 after a key accused in the Malegaon blasts, Lt Col Shrikant Prasad Purohit, told the Maharashtra Police that a former Bajrang Dal man identified as Muttalik had floated his own outfit and was doing good work for Hindutva from Karnataka. He is believed to have had links with the Abhinav Bharat, accused in the Malegaon blasts of 2008.
The Sri Rama Sene took up campaigns against cow slaughter, fashion shows, women drinking in public places, inter-religious and extra-marital relationships and “religious fundamentalism in other communities”.