Santosh Thammaiah, editor of local magazine Hosa Digantha, allegedly made the disparaging remarks during a seminar on Tipu Sultan.
Bengaluru: The controversy over Tipu Sultan, the 18th century Mysore ruler, has refused to die down in Karnataka with the Kodagu police taking into custody a Bengaluru-based journalist for allegedly making an inflammatory speech against Prophet Mohammed.
Santosh Thammaiah, the editor of local magazine Hosa Digantha, was picked up by the police late Monday night for his remarks, allegedly denigrating the Prophet, during a seminar on Tipu Sultan in Madikeri on 5 November. He was granted bail by a local court late Tuesday.
Thammaiah’s remarks were first reported by a local daily, Kaveri Times, after which a Sunni organisation filed a case. Police said they have confiscated the video recording of the event and added that they issued an arrest warrant against Thammaiah only after an investigation.
“The incident happened behind closed doors but caught the attention of the local media. We received a complaint and accordingly made the arrest late last night,” said the superintendent of police, Kodagu, Sumana D. Pannekara, adding that the journalist has been booked under Section 295 (A), which amounts to hurting religious sentiments.
“During the course of the investigation, we found that he did mention certain words that could instigate and hurt religious sentiments. He mentions that the Prophet’s principles have been the guiding principles for Tipu’s acts,” the SP added.
The arrest has added to the controversy over the Congress-JD(S) government’s decision to celebrate Tipu Jayanthi, his birth anniversary, on 10 November. While the opposition BJP has labelled Tipu Sultan as a tyrant, the Congress deems him to be a freedom fighter.
‘Husband being singled out, freedom of speech being curbed’
Thammaiah’s wife, a journalist herself, said her husband was being singled out for the many discussions and articles on Tipu Sultan ever since the government decided to commemorate his birth anniversary.
She also sought an explanation from the state government as to why his freedom of speech was being stifled. Thammaiah’s wife said that her husband had been researching extensively on Tipu Sultan for over a decade and had hence been called to the seminar, ‘A Critical Study on Tipu’s Regime’, organised by the Kodagu Zilla Pragna Kaveri.
“Two days after the event, we found out that a local Sunni group had filed a case against him and that police has issued summons. We asked them to send it,” she told ThePrint. “In between, my father fell ill and we had to go to my place in Tumkur. At around midnight (November 13), police came knocking at our door and demanded to take away my husband. He was taken away like an absconding criminal. There was no need to do so,” she added.
During his speech, Thammaiah reportedly criticised Tipu Sultan and spoken on the alleged atrocities that the ruler unleashed on the people of Coorg, Mysore and parts of Kerala.
Arrest takes political overtones
Thammaiah’s arrest has already begun to take political overtones in Karnataka where Tipu’s legacy is a divisive issue.
The BJP Tuesday defended the journalist. “Thammaiah is an activist and a journalist who has worked with the RSS as well,” BJP spokesperson Malavika Avinash said. “He was commenting on Tipu’s jihadi mindset that only believes in converting or killing. Some Islamic organisations took offence to it.”
Avinash further said that by arresting Thammaiah, the Congress-JD(S) government in the state was exposing just how much it was really committed to the freedom of expression. “He hails from Coorg, a place that suffered greatly under the tyrant. Where is the healthy democracy, the secular mindset if we can’t let a man speak his mind?” she asked.
A Congress leader, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the BJP was making it seem like Thammaiah was arrested for his anti-Tipu remarks and “not for his Islamophobic comments”.
“The police have video evidence of him making incendiary remarks. He went so far as to say the followers of Prophet Mohammad are terrorists and should be dealt with as such,” the senior Congress leader told ThePrint. “The BJP wants to politicise the issue and make it seem like it is about something else entirely.”