Despite their obvious attempts to activate communal fault lines on various social media platforms, hardcore Hindutva right-wingers are not known to back up their verbal attacks with physical assault. In that sense, Bajrang Dal activist Bhuvith Shetty, the 24-year-old face behind the Twitter handle @garudapurana, is an exception — he has been vicious online and offline.
Educated and argumentative, Shetty, who hails from Bantwal in the Dakshina Kannada district in coastal Karnataka, first hit the headlines when he was arrested on August 31 for a tweet linked to the murder of Kannada scholar M M Kalburgi.
“Then it was Anantamoorty and now its MM Kalburgi. Mock Hinduism and die a dog’s death. And dear K S Bhagwan you are next,’’ Shetty posted on Twitter after Kalburgi’s death, targeting another Kannada critic K S Bhagwan and setting police on his tail.
Out on bail for that threat, the B.Com graduate was sent back to jail on November 19 — this time for murder — following his alleged involvement in the killing of a 28-year-old Hindu youth Harish Poojary on November 11.
The killing of Poojary, who was travelling with a Muslim friend Samiullah, had rocked the Bantwal region with the BJP and other right-wing groups calling it a communal attack and linking it to the animosity in the region over the controversial November 10 celebration of the birth anniversary of Tipu Sultan.
In a twist, though, investigators found that Shetty and a gang of several other Bajrang Dal members allegedly mistook Poojary for a Muslim after being provoked by a fake Whatsapp message about the stabbing of a Hindu youth by alleged Muslim perpetrators.
“Based on a fake Whatsapp message of a stabbing incident the group of right-wing activists randomly targeted two youths on a bike, thinking they were both Muslims. While Samiullah escaped the attack because the knife used on him by Shetty broke, Poojary who was suspected to be a Muslim died from his stab wounds,’’ a police officer linked to the probe told The Indian Express.
“Shetty is an activist of the Bajrang Dal. He is well educated and has been involved in cases related to online and physical crimes,’’ the officer said.
One of the earliest cases registered against Shetty dates back to 2013 when, as a 22-year-old, he was apart of a Bajrang Dal cow protection group that stopped a truck transporting cattle near the village of Kalladka in the Puttur district before severely assaulting the transporters.
After spending four months in prison, he was released on bail with a warning from the court not to be involved in crimes anymore.
In 2014, Shetty attracted the attention of the police again for an allegedly defamatory Facebook post about the Dakshina Kannada district in-charge Congress minister Ramanath Rai and a saffron towel he wore at a public event in Bantwal.
A commerce degree-holder from Vivekananda College in Puttur, Shetty is reported to have worked briefly as an accountant at the Agricultural Produce Marketing Co-operative in Mangalore. Before getting embroiled in cases over the tweet regarding the Kalburgi murder and the Poojary killing, Shetty had planned to go abroad to work, since his older sister and brother-in-law are based in a foreign country.
According to police sources, Shetty’s involvement in the murder of Poojary was the culmination of several days of growing tension over the celebration of the Tipu Sultan anniversary between right-wing activists and Muslim groups like the Popular Front of India and Social Democratic Party of India.
“They got a message on Whatsapp saying a group called Green Guys had challenged Bajrang Dal activists to stop their celebrations of the Tipu Sultan anniversary. Several Bajrang activists held a meeting and went to a place where a Tipu event was being held to disrupt it,’’ said a police officer.
After pelting stones to disrupt the event, the Bajrang Dal activists split up with Shetty, Achyuta Poojary, Mithun, Raviraj Kalladka and some others regrouping later and plotting to kill a Muslim after receiving the fake Whatsapp message, said the officer.
Earlier this year, Shetty had boasted about his name being mentioned in a Wikipedia page on writer Bhagwan. “Anti-Hindu K.S. Bhagawan’s Wikipedia page has my name mentioned over there. Lol!’’ he said in a tweet.
Despite his earlier arrest for a tweet regarding Bhagwan, the Bajrang Dal activist referred to the chopping of the hand of a college professor in Kerala by Muslim activists of the Popular Front of India.
On November 6, Shetty tweeted: “Plight of Prof. TJ Joseph… in Kerala. Meanwhile, Prof Bhagwan is roaming scot-free in K’taka’’.
A day before his alleged involvement in the Poojary murder and at the height of the Tipu Sultan controversy following the death of a VHP activist Kutappa in Kodagu, Shetty tweeted: “Let many Hindu heads roll on the floor. Hindutva will remain till eternity. Om Shanthi.’’