Mayhem in mourning

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  • Published 13.04.06

Bangalore, April 13: Kannada icon Rajkumar’s death turned India’s Silicon Valley into an arena of violence today with five people losing their lives as police sought unsuccessfully to control rioting mobs who tried to get close to the film star on his last journey.

Karnataka went into two days of official mourning but the capital bore the desolate signs of a general strike. Angry people torched buses and petrol pumps, attacked company offices, looted shops and beat up heavily outnumbered policemen.

Surprised by the reaction, the police opened fire in two places ? once outside Kanteerava stadium, where the body was placed for public viewing and then in front of the studio where the burial took place, killing three people.

Two others, including a policeman, died of head injuries sustained in stone-pelting. Chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, who had to be whisked away from the venue of the funeral, however, said four people had died. “By resorting to violence, you will only be showing disrespect to the great actor,” he said, appealing for calm.

His deputy, B.S. Yediyurappa, suffered a minor injury when a mob stoned his car as it entered Kanteerava Studios.

The violence started early at the stadium in the centre of the city where the body was placed for public viewing. Waves of fans ? many had gathered from the previous night ? surged to have a look, forcing the police to wield the baton and fire teargas shells.

Thwarted, the mourners turned violent outside the stadium, attacking busloads of policemen who ran for their lives and torching police vehicles. Constable Manjunath, 27, who suffered deep gashes, died in a hospital later.

“I have to see him for one last time,” said Bhagyamma, a housewife clutching her four-year-old son as she waited on the route of the funeral procession. She said her entire family was there. “We walked more than four km for a glimpse of our household hero.”

Outside Karnataka, the actor became well known after he was kidnapped by forest brigand Veerappan in 2000.

Rajkumar, who acted in over 200 Kannada films, was buried according to the custom of the Idiga community to which he belonged. His sons Shiva, Raghavendra and Puneeth ? all actors ? performed the last rites in the presence of mother Parvathamma.

Outside, thousands pushed to break through police barriers to enter the studio. When they were stopped, the crowds vented their fury on passing vehicles and glass-fronted establishments. Home to leading IT companies, including Wipro and Infosys, the city saw a complete business shutdown.

“Offices that are open get stoned. This is bad for Bangalore’s international image,” an official of a multinational told Reuters.

Long-time residents were shocked. “The police are to blame completely. Even at the height of communal violence the city did not shut down this way,” said Sandeep Sahadevan, a BPO manager.