Kollegal, Dec. 9: Scattered violence broke out in Kollegal and a pall of gloom descended on Karnataka’s Chamrajnagar district as H. Nagappa was buried this evening at his farmhouse in Kamgare from where he was abducted on August 25.
In this emotionally charged atmosphere, family members of the slain leader rejected the S.M. Krishna government’s plans of a state funeral and conducted the last rites according to the Veerashaiva tradition, lowering his body to the ground in a sitting posture. The former Janata Dal (United) minister belonged to the Veerashaiva caste.
Kollegal’s residents virtually banned all representatives of the Congress government, police as well as politicians from Nagappa’s party from the funeral. Union ministers Ananth Kumar and Srinivas Prasad of the BJP, state minister H. Mahadev, state Janata Dal chief Byre Gowda and senior leaders like P.G.R. Scindia and Nage Gowda were roughed by the irate mob.
They fled as the mob made it clear they had no business being in Kamgare after failing to save Nagappa’s life. Reporters were also roughed up and many suffered minor bruises. The rest of Karnataka observed a relatively peaceful bandh.
As Kollegal grieved, Karnataka’s politics churned. Krishna convened a meeting of his Cabinet in Bangalore even as Opposition parties called for his resignation.
The trouble in the taluk had started since last night when Nagappa’s supporters went berserk after news of his death came in. The police had to fire once in the air to disperse a violent crowd. This morning, the growing restlessness turned into an outpouring of grief as Nagappa’s body was brought from Changdi to Ramapura, where the post-mortem was conducted.
The autopsy turned out to be a metaphor of the shortcomings of the administration, which has failed to capture Veerappan for years. There was no room to conduct the post-mortem and doctors did their job beneath a tree with cloth curtains serving as a screen.
As the post-mortem was being conducted, the mob burnt a vehicle parked at the Ramapura police station. Incidentally, the vehicle had been confiscated from Kolathur Mani, who is considered to be Veerappan’s associate and was repeatedly sought by the brigand as an emissary to negotiate Nagappa’s release. The mob also damaged a couple of passing vehicles.
The post-mortem revealed Nagappa was shot at point-blank range in the chest but the bullet could not to be traced, apparently because the wound had become maggot-infested.
After the autopsy the crowd gathered at the site demanded to have a last look at their leader, but the police refused. They feared the sight of the decomposed body would add fuel to the fire. As it turned out, the refusal triggered the violence. Political leaders, police officials and reporters were targeted with whatever came in handy — chairs, rods, bricks and stones.
The police tried to quell the violence by firing teargas shells and in the air but in vain. Nagappa’s body was virtually taken away by a 20,000-strong mob and carried in a frenzied procession to Kamgare. The entire village was cleared of policemen and the funeral, which lasted for over one-and-a-half hours, conducted amid slogan chanting.
For the Krishna government, which has doubled the award for catching Veerappan to Rs 2 crore, it could be the beginning of another round of trouble. There are fears that today’s incidents would spark a caste war between the Lingayat community — to which Nagappa belonged — and the Vokkaligas, Krishna’s community.