The Karnataka government has toughened its stand on protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act by first holding back the compensation it had announced for the families of those killed in police firing in Mangaluru and then announcing a plan to make the alleged rioters pay for the damage to public property during the protests. Both decisions seem to have been inspired by the policies and actions of the Yogi Adityanath government in UP in dealing with protests. Chief Minister Yediyurappa had announced a compensation of Rs 10 lakh for the families of the two persons who were killed in Mangaluru. He had visited their families. But his government later did a U-turn and said those killed were criminals. It has withheld the compensation, pending the outcome of enquiries into the incident. Why did the chief minister visit the families if those killed were criminals?
It is clear that compensation has been withheld due to pressure from the ruling party. Some BJP leaders had publicly disapproved of the compensation, and even said that only patriots and those who protect cows deserve compensation. Available reports have suggested that the two who were killed in police firing had no role in the violence. One of them had gone out on the street to pick up his children returning from school. There have also been reports of excessive violence on the part of the police against the protesters. The government might probably want to label all protests as anti-national acts. It has tried to prevent protests and punish protesters not just in Mangaluru but all over the state. Victims of police excesses and atrocities deserve compensation, and governments should not shirk this moral responsibility for narrow political reasons. Unfortunately, the violent police crackdown on protests and protesters in UP has become the model for other BJP governments. It is part of a policy to delegitimise protests and to ensure that they do not take place.
The proposal to recover monies for the damage caused to public property from the protesters has also been mooted with the same aim. The idea of making the rioter pay for the damage is right and unexceptional. Courts have recommended it. But the question is, how the principle will be implemented. As long as there is no reliable system to fix responsibility for violence and to identify the rioters, the implementation will be faulty and selective. The principle then becomes a tool in the hands of governments, such as Adityanath’s, for retribution against those that do not agree with it. Even the right ideas are not safe in the wrong hands.