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BJP youth leader’s murder in Dakshina Kannada planned & linked to another killing, police say

Praveen Nettaru was hacked to death by two bike-born attackers on 26 June. Police consider bringing charges of UAPA against suspects in the case.

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Bellare (Mangalore):  Late on Tuesday, Praveen Nettaru, a 34-year-old worker of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha the youth wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party was hacked to death with swords by two bike-borne assailants.

According to police investigation so far, Nettaru’s killing appeared to be pre-planned and linked to another alleged murder in the same village, that of 19-year-old Mohammed Masood, in the communally-sensitive Bellare town of Karnataka, ThePrint has learnt.

Nettaru died on the way to the hospital. Since then, BJYM workers have been flocking to his house in a forested village demanding justice.

“This is a planned murder,” Nettaru’s 31-year-old wife Nuthana told ThePrint.” My husband was shadowed for days and only then did the assailants decide to kill him Tuesday. We want to see the conspirators punished. Police have now picked up two locals, who might have made themselves available for arrest and it is to cover up the actual conspiracy. We do not want money or any compensation, we just want justice for him.” 

As protests erupted over Nettaru’s death, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, who visited his family Thursday, announced Friday that his government would hand over the case to the National Investigation Agency (NIA). 

Praveen Nettaru's house in Bellare | Photo: Madhuparna Das | ThePrint
Praveen Nettaru’s house in Bellare | Photo: Madhuparna Das | ThePrint

Top sources in Karnataka Police told ThePrint that investigators had begun working on booking the two suspects arrested in the case — Shafiq and Zaqir — under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The two were arrested Thursday.

Police sources told ThePrint that during the course of its investigation, it appeared that the killing was an act of vengeance and that Nettaru was murdered as an act of retaliation for a murder that had taken place on 19 July. 

“This is a pre-planned murder, and it appears to be retaliatory in nature,” a senior police officer told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity. “A group planned to assault Praveen to avenge the murder of Masood. We are still working on more details.” 

“It seems that the conspiracy was hatched in Kerala, and locals from Bellare were roped in,” he added.

The 19-year-old Mohammed Masood died 21 July after he was assaulted by a  group of eight men in Kalanja in Sulia taluk.  

The police officer also told ThePrint that Masood’s killing resulted from a local clash and was neither planned nor communal in nature.

Police have arrested eight people in the case.

Sonawane Rishikesh, Superintendent of Police of Dakshina Kannada told ThePrint, “No further arrests have been made as of now [In Nettaru’s murder]. we are on it.” 

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Who is Praveen Nettaru

Praveen Nettaru was an active member of both the Rashtriya  Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the BJYM

Known as an animal lover, an environment rights activist and a staunch Hindutva supporter who had pictures of Ram and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the same wall, Nettaru had been popular in his area and would actively organise events.

His cousin  Ranjit K, told  ThePrint that he owned a meat shop and had been receiving some threatening phone calls over his business 

“He was the only Hindu meat shop owner as Muslims monopolise this business here. He was encouraging other Hindu youths to start their businesses in the locality. After some threat calls, he verbally informed the local police station [about them].” 

Nettaru had been cremated on a small piece of land beside his house because the family didn’t want to take the body to the local crematorium, his friend and party colleague Harshit Kalladka told ThePrint

His Facebook page is replete with posts related to his love for animals, his social work, and his efforts as an environmental activist. 

In his courtyard, Jaani, his three-month-old rescue dog, howls in his small box. Ranjit says that the dog was rescued from another village. He used to bring many such stray dogs home, Ranjit told ThePrint. 

In his Facebook post on 29 June, Nettaru called the Rajasthan government a “dangerous secularist” over the killing of Kanhaiya Lal Teli, a tailor who was beheaded in Udaipur on 28 June. He hasn’t posted anything related to any communal incident since. 

Police have said that the murder had nothing to do with that post. 

‘Sensitive’ Bellare 

Senior BJP leaders in Karnataka say Bellare is a “communally sensitive” area because of its location. 

It’s located some 60 km from the Kerala border. 

“It’s near the Kerala border and PFI is the dominant force here. In Dakshina Kannada district there were at least 10 murders of BJP or RSS workers in the past six years. All of them are communal in nature. We have asked our workers to become more vigilant and guard the villages,” said Sudarshan Mudbitri, the BJP district president. 

When ThePrint visited Masood’s house — 8 km away from Nettaru’s — his mother Saramma said that the police had visited the family in connection with Nettaru’s death.

Mohammed Masood's mother and brothers at their house in Bellare | Photo: Madhuparna Das | ThePrint
Mohammed Masood’s mother and brothers at their house in Bellare | Photo: Madhuparna Das | ThePrint

Police visited us a couple of times to probe into Praveen’s death and see if any of us are connected or involved in his murder, but we have no idea about him and the arrested people,” she said.

Meanwhile, Nettaru’s murder has led to resentment among the local BJP workers, who call their senior leaders’ reaction to the incident “insensitive”.

The murder has reportedly led to a spate of resignations from BJYM members, who accuse the BJP government in Karnataka of failing to protect its own cadre. 

This anger spilled over during Dakshina Kannada Member of Parliament Nalin Kumar Kateel’s visit to the village on 27 June. An enraged crowd of locals surrounded his car and started to push it, forcing police to resort to lathicharge.  

A local BJP leader, and a colleague of Nettaru,  told ThePrint: “It took over 24 hours for BJP state president and Dakshina Kannada MP Nalin Kumar Kateel to come to the village. Workers were agitated and they shook his car. They didn’t touch him. But, in such a sensitive situation, police (resorted to) lathi charge.” 

BJYM national president Tejasvi Surya, who met the family Friday, has blamed the “jihadi mindset” for Nettaru’s murder. 

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

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