The judicial probe into the 2008 church attacks in Karnataka lets the Sangh Parivar off the hook
By Arvind Narrain and Jagadeesh BN
THE BURNING question that the Justice Somasekhara Commission was mandated to answer was “to identify persons and organisations” responsible for the attacks on churches in September 2008 and thereafter in Karnataka. On the question of who was behind the attacks, the report says “there is no basis to the apprehension of the Christian petitioners that politicians, Sangh Parivar, BJP and the state government are involved in the attacks, either directly or indirectly”.
However, the report also observes, “The plea of Christian memorialists for taking action against Mahendra Kumar, the then convenor of Bajrang Dal, who publicly sought to justify the attacks, is totally justified.” The report adds, “the plea that organisations like Bajrang Dal need identification and registration for legal control deserves acceptance”.
Further, Annexure XLVIII of the report, which lists 56 churches that were attacked, specifically names Hindutva fundamentalist organisations that were involved. In particular, Bajrang Dal has been named as being behind the attacks on nine churches, Hindu Jagran Vedike (HJV) on three churches, Sangh Parivar on one church and unnamed Hindu fundamentalists on two churches.
In view of the annexure, the question is whether Justice Somasekhara is justified in giving a clean chit to the Parivar. The only way he can do that is by concluding that neither the Bajrang Dal nor the HJV are part of the Parivar. However, the material before the commission, both in terms of written submissions made before it as well as the cross-examination of Mahendra Kumar, indicates the linkages between the Bajrang Dal, VHP and RSS. What emerges is that the Bajrang Dal does not act independently but is part of a larger Parivar that controls and directs its actions. During cross-examination, Mahendra Kumar states that the Bajrang Dal is the youth wing of the VHP.
This admission must be read in the context of the Liberhan report, which was also placed before the commission. It should be noted that when the Liberhan report was sought to be placed by the counsel for the Christian community, Justice Somasekhara objected, saying that the report was unnecessary as he was going to understand what happened in Karnataka as a sui generis event with no linkages or connections to past events. However, the counsel argued that one cannot see the attacks as a one-off event and it had to be seen as linked to Hindutva ideology and the RSS’ organisational structure.
The Liberhan report had concluded that the Parivar included the BJP, RSS, Bajrang Dal, VHP and many other “mutating and transforming organisations”. It argued that they are “collectively an immense and awesome entity with a shrewd brain, a wide encompassing sweep and the crushing strength of the mob”.
An annexure of the report states that Hindutva outfits had a hand in nine attacks
The material before the commission discloses the Parivar’s role in the attacks. Why then does Justice Somasekhara conclude that the Parivar had no role? What paralysed him from drawing the necessary conclusions?
Justice Somasekhara concedes that district officials failed, particularly in Davangere. Describing their actions as “unreasonably cruel and illegal,” he recommended initiation of action against police officers. However, the commission refuses to attribute any vicarious liability to the BJP-run state government.
As an exercise in public reasoning, Justice Somasekhara’s findings are riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions, and completely fails to persuade that indeed the Sangh Parivar had nothing to do with the church attacks or that the BJP administration is not criminally liable for allowing the attacks to happen.
Narrain and Jagadeesh represented the Christian community before the Somasekhara Commission