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Keregodu Flag Conflict: Progressive Organisations Call for Mandya bandh on February 7

Sabrang India |
Peoples organisations and progressive organisations have called for a Mandya bandh (shut down) on February 7, condemning vested interests for disturbing peace and harmony, in the pretext of 'Hanuma dhwaja' removal issue, at Keragodu village in Mandya taluk.
Keregodu flag conflict: Progressive organisations call for Mandya bandh on February 7

Image Courtesy: The Hindu

For the past week, since before Republic Day actually, January 26, the newly installed high-mast flagpole in Keragodu of Mandya district has been turned into the epicentre of communal turmoil, just in time for Lok Sabha elections 2024.

Hindutva organisations, ably supported by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and JDS have been alleging that a saffron flag was “removed” after it was hoisted; authorities are clear however that permission had only been granted to hoist the national flag at Keragodu village in Mandya; however the organisers (mis)used the permission to hoist the majoritarian bhagwa dhwaj.

This was confirmed in a public statement by Karnataka’s home minister, Parameshwara. Speaking to reporters from the Deccan Herald, Indian Express and other media on Sunday, January 28, he clarified that that permission was not issued for hoisting saffron flag on Republic Day at all. “Therefore, the panchayat officials removed the saffron flag and hoisted the tricolour. As a result there was a ruckus and the police resorted to light caning,” he said. The issue was the prior flying of the Hanuman flag here to observe the January 22 Ayodhya “celebrations.”

The Home minister said that saffron flag cannot be hoisted on government land, but it can be hoisted anywhere else. The flagpole under “seizure” by majoritarian forces is on government land and does not belong as wrongly alleged to the Hanuman temple. Fomenting a controversy on the back of the aggressive Ayodhya event on January 22, these outfits had even observed a bandh on Monday, January 29.

Now peace loving citizens have stepped in, reports Deccan Herald. Addressing media persons here on Wednesday, January 31, M B Nagannagowda of Samana Manaska Vedike said, “There have been efforts to create tension and tarnish the progressive culture in the district, projecting the trivial issues. It has become inevitable to fight against the force that has been creating disharmony. Hence, various organisations under the forum would observe Mandya bandh on February 7.”

“The district administration should take strict action against those, who had involved in creating trouble. The miscreants, who had pelted stones on the Kuruba student’s hostel should be arrested. More than 20 organisations, including Raitha Sangha, Dalit Sangharsha Samiti, CITU and Karnataka Rakshana Vedike will be supporting the bandh,” he added.

Meanwhile, desperate for a polarising issue ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, BJP leaders held a meeting at Keragodu village in connection with the issue and discuss the future course of action. The meeting was chaired by BJP district unit president Indresh Kumar. BJP leader Ashok Jayaram said that the protest would continue till the ‘Hanuma dhwaja’ is hoisted again at the 108-ft flag pole in Keragodu village. “The government has been bringing in police from other districts and deploying in Mandya. The women and children of the village are under fear. However, the fight against the government will continue,” he said.

Incidentally, the village boasts of three heritage temples: The main Anjaneya (Hanuman) temple, the Basaveshwara temple, and the Vigneshwara temple. The latter two temples stand 100 feet apart on opposite sides of the road. The Gowrishankar Trust has been actively conducting religious programmes relating to all three deities of the village. While the village does not have a single Ram temple, it is proud host to the Anjaneya temple where festivities and observances around Hanuman have been happening over the past four decades.

The politics of a flagpole

On the back of the Ram temple Ayodhya event on January 22, a Hanuman flag had been flying atop this flagpole constructed in the village. On Republic Day when it was time to hoist the customary tricolour, an aggressive resistance was reportedly put up by some elements and when one individual brought the matter to the notice of higher officials, including the Executive Officer (EO), the Panchayat Development Officer (PDO), and the Taluk Panchayat Officer (TPO), who granted Kumar three days’ time to set right the issue. So, on the morning of Republic Day, the Gowrishankar Trust members, associates, and a few villagers brought down the Hanuman flag and hoisted the Tricolour with a decorated photograph of Mahatma Gandhi placed beneath the flagpole. Not to be outdone, on the same evening, a member of the trust lowered the Tricolour and again hoisted the Hanuman flag.

Thereafter the conflict spiralled with rumours and false information against the saffron flag being spread by divisive elements. Finally, on Sunday morning, around 10.30 am, around eight battalions of Karnataka State Reserve Police (KSRP) — headed by a Deputy Superintendent of Police rank officer — were deployed for maintaining law and order in the village. The district administration officials arrived at the flagpole to lower the religious flag and hoist the Tricolour. They were once again opposed by villagers, who this time resisted along with a large number of women folk from the village and surroundings areas in the front of the flagpole. Allegations of administration and government being “anti-Hindu” flew thick and fast.

When the villagers refused to move away, the police resorted to lathi-charge, and the protesting women were taken into preventive custody. Three people were injured in the lathi-charge and they were taken to the hospital, administered first-aid, and sent home. The authorities lowered the Hanuman flag, hoisted the Tricolour, and barricaded the flagpole.

They further imposed Section 144 (curfew) in the village. They also stated that the ruling Congress government was attempting to incite communal violence by lowering the Hanuman flag.

Local politics

Meanwhile, the Indian Express reports that an executive magistrate and tahsildar for Mandya taluk in Karnataka has filed a complaint of unlawful assembly, wrongful restraint and use of criminal force on public servants against Hindu activists who obstructed officials from hoisting the national flag within the premises of the Keragodu gram panchayat office after taking down a religious flag.

Executive magistrate Shivakumar Biradar has accused Prathap Belidegalu, a resident of Keragodu, and 400 to 500 other right-wing activists of staging protests in violation of prohibitory orders during the removal of a saffron Hanuman flag in the village and preventing state officials from hoisting the national flag in its place on January 28.

According to the complaint filed at night on January 28, says IE, a saffron flag was hoisted in violation of rules by the Sri Gowrishankar Seva Trust and this was objected to by some rivals. To resolve the issue, at a peace meeting, village officials tried to convince the members of the Trust to allow the removal of the saffron flag and the hoisting of the national flag in its place. However, they refused to cooperate. The Keragodu panchayat development officer then sought the assistance of higher officials in removing the saffron flag installed in violation of the rules, according to the complaint.

“With tensions rising between supporters of the trust and a rival group, Mandya taluk officials decided to intervene and arrived at the gram panchayat office on the morning of January 28 with the police but around 400 to 500 Hindutva activists from Keragodu and other villages prevented the saffron flag from being taken down,” says the police complaint.

“Despite over three hours of effort, from 6 am to 9 am, to convince the protestors of the need to remove the flag, they were unrelenting. Subsequently, with the help of the police, the Hanuman flag was withdrawn,” the complaint states.

According to the complaint, the protestors did not allow the national flag to be raised on the flag pole after the removal of the saffron flag and this resulted in prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code being imposed in a 200-metre area around the flag post.

Around 3 pm on January 28 when the government officials tried to hoist the national flag, they were obstructed and manhandled by the protestors, it is alleged. Thereafter a lathi charge also reportedly followed that has given an excuse to the right-wing to spiral local tensions.

Courtesy: sabrang India

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