Tensions escalated in Karnataka as District officials on Sunday, hoisted the tricolour after taking down the saffron flag with an image of Lord Hanuman.
Security beefed up in Mandya district after the lowering of the saffron flag from the 108-ft flagpole at Keragodu village had sparked protests leading to the deployment of additional forces.
Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) (which prohibits the assembly of four or more people in a specified area) was imposed after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Janata Dal-Secular (JDS) launched a ‘padyatra’ (protest rally) from the village to the District Collector’s office on Monday.
Local youths had reportedly sought permission from the gram panchayat to raise a flag in front of the Hanuman temple on January 22, commemorating the inauguration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya.
“Ahead of the Ram temple inauguration in Ayodhya, BJP and JD(S) workers collected money and installed a 108-ft flagpole and hoisted a saffron flag with pictures of Hanuman in Keragodu village on January 19. However, a section of people filed a complaint with the taluk administration and local officials were given a direction to remove it,” a local source told The Indian Express.
Taluk authorities had attempted to take down the flag on Saturday midnight but failed due to strong protests. Later, on Sunday, the authorities lowered the saffron flag, citing rules that only the national flag be flown on government land, in the presence of Assistant Commissioner Shivamurthy and Tahsildar Shivakumar.
Following the lowering of the Hanuman flag, local people, right-wing activists along with BJP and Janata Dal (S) leaders immediately staged a protest demanding that it be hoisted again while shouting slogans against the Congress government.
Local Congress MLA Ravi Kumar Ganiga argued that the gram panchayat had granted permission as the organization sought to hoist the national flag in their application. Ganiga said that the land was government-owned, and rules provided for hoisting only the national flag on such premises.
Ganiga said that the authorities started receiving requests from the local Dalit Sangharsha Samithi, Kurubara Sangha, and the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha too for hoisting their flags on government land.
“The law of the land is the same for everybody. We can’t give permission to one section and deny the same to the other,” he said, with regards to requests from other groups, adding that the government would not have objected if permission was sought to hoist the flag on private land or temple land.
The protests intensified as a large number of people started gathering, breaking the barricades erected in the area, which forced the police to resort to lathi-charge to maintain law and order.
Some of the protesters blocked the Mandya-Yediyur highway by setting fire to tyres on the road. A few of the local shops and establishments have remained shut as protestors have given a call for a voluntary shutdown.
Accusing the Congress state government of “insulting” the flag, BJP leaders have called for protests at all the district headquarters of the state today, condemning their “anti-Hindu policy”. As a part of this, BJP members protesting in Bangalore were detained by Karnataka police who said that no permission was granted to hold a protest at the site.
The protesters began their ‘padyatra’ to the DC’s office in the city holding saffron flags. The rally is likely to be joined by JD(S) leader and former Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy, as per reports.
In response to the tense atmosphere and strong protests, the police have taken certain security measures to ensure law and order is maintained. The police officials reportedly said that barricades are erected around the flagpole, and CCTV cameras have been installed in the area.
The Congress leaders blame the BJP and JD(S) for fuelling unrest over the flag ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.
In response to the issue and the prevailing tension, Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah accused the BJP of “creating unnecessary issues”. “Such a situation has been created with the intention of systematically raising the people against the state government. There is no doubt that the plot to create communal riots in Mandya is a preparation for the Lok Sabha elections by the BJP leaders,” he said.
Speaking about the protests in Mandya, Deputy Chief Minister D K Shivakumar said “It is only a political game. All of them have lost their deposits in BJP. That is why they have embraced JD(S). They’re creating confusion in the minds of people.”
Taking to X (formerly twitter), Priyank Kharge of Congress, shared the photos of the permission letters and said that the BJP and the Sangh Parivar, have made the coast a laboratory of communal politics for so long, and have now started their experiment in Mandya.
Meanwhile, Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Assembly R. Ashok reportedly said the BJP would take up the issue like the agitation for “Datta Peetha”. He said that the saffron flag had to fly along with the national flag questioning, “Why do we need permission to hoist the saffron flag in front of Hanuman temple?”.