Despite its negligible presence in Karnataka, the right wing Bajrang Dal has managed come into limelight with its hit-and-run brand of politics. Still trying to expand beyond districts like coastal Dakshina Kannada, neighbouring Chikamagalur and Uttar Kannada, the Bajrang Dal has an estimated one lakh members, belonging largely to the merchant classes.
Though in Karnataka since 1996, the organisation started gaining ground only after the BJP started inching closer to the power centre in the state. Besides the ruling BJP, the group’s ascendance in the state has also been aided by the rise of its first convener, the firebrand Pramod Mutalik Desai of Belgaum, a full-time RSS worker and a VHP member.
Mutalik, with his vitriolic, saffron-soaked speeches travelled across Karnataka, garnering support for the Bajrang Dal and picked on communally sensitive issues to drive home his radical messages.
The former Congress and the Janata Dal governments in Karnataka have had Mutalik permanently on their scanners on account of his radical speeches.
Mutalik, until his ouster in 2004 from the Bajrang Dal, frequently courted arrests and had as many as 100 cases registered against him in eight years for provocative communal messages. He was ousted after the Bajrang Dal national leadership lost favour with him.
The Bajrang Dal — until the recent church attacks in Mangalore, Udupi and Chikamagalur — was most known in Karnataka for its role in an agitation to gain control over the sufi Datta Peetha Shrine, shared by both Hindus and Muslims, at Bababudangiri in Chikmagalur. When Mutalik was a Bajrang Dal leader, he had threatened to make the shrine issue the “Ayodhya of the south”.
On a lesser scale, the group was also infamous for carrying out attacks on churches and prayer halls in a so-called battle against Christian conversion in the state, as well as attacks on people for cow slaughter and moral policing against inter-religion marriages — especially in the coastal belt.
The outfit claims to have carried out re-conversions to Hinduism on over 2,000 people in the state.
The group currently has branches in over 3,000 towns and villages in the state. The prosperous but communally divided districts of Mangalore, Udupi and Chikamagalur, which have turned into BJP strongholds in Karnataka politics, is their primary base.
With the BJP in power, the general perception is that groups like the Bajrang Dal get a bigger licence to carry out its agenda without the fear of a crackdown by the authorities.
In the current spool of violence against churches and the subsequent protests, for instance, though Bajrang Dal state convener Mahendra Kumar has claimed responsibility for the attacks, the local police have not acted against any leaders of the group so far.
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