Bengaluru: Brutal killing of rationalist M M Kalburgi that gave rise to a nationwide debate on intolerance, Tipu Sultan birth anniversary celebrations and the resultant violence and spike in farmer suicides formed significant parts of variegated developments in Karnataka during 2015.
The year began with a terror scare following a bomb blast in front of a popular restaurant in the heart of the city, but it also saw police unearthing a terror module of banned Indian Mujahideen with the arrest of its three suspected operatives and seizure of explosives in January.
The State of Karnataka, the sole prosecuting agency filing an appeal in the Supreme Court against the acquittal of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa and three others in the disproportionate assets case; and death of Bengaluru techie Prabha Arun Kumar following her stabbing in an attack in Sydney also made headlines during the year.
Karnataka this year faced the biggest agrarian challenge in its recent history with drought situation turning out to be the “worst” in 40 years. About 800 farmers have committed suicide and 136 taluks been declared drought hit.
For Bengaluru-headquartered Indian Space Research Organisation, the year began with a change of guard as A S Kiran Kumar took over as Chairman from K Radhakrishnan.
The year also marked a series of successful launches for the space agency that included both Indian and foreign satellites. ISRO had braced itself for one satellite launch every month and succeeded in fulfilling its objective. It launched six Singapore satellites yesterday.
As its first ever interplanetary expedition, the Mars Orbiter spacecraft, completed one year of rendezvous with the Red planet in September, ISRO also announced that the mission will last “many years”.
In a bizarre incident, Bengaluru saw a huge layer of froth floating on its lakes, and even catching fire, giving rise to a national debate on pollution of water bodies by chemical- rich effluents discharged by establishments and households.
On the corporate front, the developments that marked the year includes city-based ING Vysya Bank getting amalgamated into private sector Kotak Mahindra Bank; liquor-baron Vijay Mallya being declared a ‘wilful defaulter’ by banks, corporate legal tangles involving him as also United Spirits’ new owner Diageo asking him to step down as Chairman and Director.
The city hosting 10th Aero India show, BJP National Executive Meeting, and 23-year-old US-educated Yaduveer Krishnadatta Chamaraja Wodeyar being crowned the titular head of the erstwhile Mysuru royal family also marked the calendar this year.
77-year-old vocal and outspoken rationalist Kalburgi fell to the bullets of two unidentified men at his residence at Dharwad in north Karnataka, considered the state’s cultural capital. CID is probing the case.
Kalburgi was an associate of rationalist Govind Pansare of Kolhapur in Maharashtra, who had also fallen prey in a similar attack in February, and had drawn the ire of some right-wing Hindu groups like VHP and Bajrang Dal with his remarks about idol worship by Hindus.
Another rationalist, Narendra Dabholkar, was murdered in Pune in 2013 in a similar fashion.
Kalburgi’s killing acted as the catalyst that ignited the debate on “intolerance” in the country, resulting in prominent literary and theatre personalities returning their awards and targeting the Modi government, under whose watch they claimed intolerance was rising.
Death threats to writer K S Bhagwan and Jnanpith award winner Girish Karnad further fuelled the debate on “intolerance”.
Karnad was again in the eye of a storm for his controversial remarks that it would have been “apt” had the Bengaluru International Airport at Devanahalli been named after Tipu Sultan rather than Kempegowda, a feudatory ruler under the erstwhile Vijayanagara Empire which founded Bengaluru in 1537.
He also said during the state government-organised Tipu Jayanti celebrations that the 18th century Mysore ruler would have enjoyed the same status as Maratha king Chhatrapathi Shivaji had he been a Hindu and not a Muslim.
Following these statements, Karnad had to face the anger of certain groups besides threats to his life that led to his taking police protection.
Karnataka government’s Tipu Jayanti celebrations amid protest from a few pro-Hindu groups led to the death of two persons, including a VHP leader, in Kodagu district, while a man was stabbed in Bantwal taluk near Mangaluru. Opposition BJP and several organisations had boycotted the celebration calling Tipu a “religious bigot”.
While the nation was outraged over the incident of the lynching of 50-year-old Ikhlaq by a mob at Dadri in Uttar Pradesh over beef eating rumours, Prashant Poojary, a 29-year-old flower vendor and Bajrang Dal activist, was brutally hacked to death by six bike-borne men at Moodbidri.
Karnataka politics also had its share of the beef ban issue when a local BJP leader threatened Chief Minister Siddaramaiah over his comment on eating beef, saying that he will be ‘beheaded’ if he ‘dared’ to do so.
Siddaramaiah had reportedly said, “Till date I have never eaten cow meat. But if it suits my palate and if I want to eat beef, I will eat it. Nobody can stop me.”
The comments by Siddaramaiah invited sharp reactions from BJP and sections of the society.
ISRO’s commercial arm Antrix was also in the news as an international tribunal asked it to pay damages worth USD 672 million (Rs 4,432 crore) to Bengaluru-based firm Devas Multimedia for “unlawfully” terminating a deal four years ago on grounds of national security.
Also, there was an incident wherein Antrix’s website appeared to have been hacked, but it later emerged that the problem had occurred due to a purposeful attempt by someone to link the home page to another page.
The year ended on a sour note as the state saw the exit of Lokayukta under a cloud. Karnataka Lokayukta model ushered in during the chief ministership of Ramakrishna Hegde had come in for praise as a model to be followed but the institution’s name was besmirched by the corruption taint.
As the prospect of his removal loomed large with an impeachment process underway, controversial Karnataka Lokayukta Y Bhaskar Rao resigned over an alleged extortion racket in the anti-graft ombudsman’s office linked to his son.
Rao bowed out of office after resisting the growing clamour for his exit since the charge against his son Ashwin Rao surfaced. Ashwin has been accused of operating a racket from the ombudsman’s office.
Rao, a former Karnataka High Court Chief Justice who initially put up a brave front, insisting he would quit only when his son was proved guilty, was on a long leave since July last. The Special Investigation Team probing the case had arrested Ashwin Rao.
A motion moved by BJP and JDS and also supported by the ruling Congress seeking the removal of Rao is pending before the Karnataka Assembly.
The scandal surfaced after Lokayukta Superintendent of Police Sonia Narang wrote a letter to the Registrar of Karnataka Lokayukta about a complaint she received from a person who alleged that someone from the Lokayukta office had demanded a Rs 1 crore bribe to avoid a raid.
Subsequently, more such alleged bribery cases had tumbled out before the Lokayukta finally bowed out ignominiously.