A 36-year-old engineer and MBA-holder, Aditya Rao, surrendered on Thursday to the Bengaluru police stating he had placed the bag of explosive materials at the Mangaluru International Airport. Aditya Rao’s surrender came in the wake of massive speculation, both by political parties, leaders and certain sections of the media that “jihadi forces” were trying to “spread communal unrest” in the country.
Aditya’s arrest has brought to the limelight Islamophobic statements made by members of the ruling BJP, pro-Hindu groups and by a certain section of the media. Crucially, the events of the past week have reinforced how Islamophobia has been normalised.
The bag at the airport was found just weeks after violence erupted in Mangaluru during the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), and the tension that prevailed in the city ever since. The police had also begun rounding up Muslims and several people from Kerala demanding that they prove their innocence in the December 19 violence. These circumstances created a “safe space” for normalising Islamophobic statements, says Ishvar Raj, a member of the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties.
Islamophobic statements and speculation
On January 20, a bag containing explosives was found at the Mangaluru International Airport. Just an hour after the incident, Karnataka Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai said, “Anti-national forces responsible for the incident would be brought to book”.
“We have seen the increase in terrorist activity in the last seven to eight years in the country. When January 26 (Republic Day) approaches, attempts at terror activities have been constantly made and Mangaluru is also a place where they (referring to terrorists) carry out their activities,” Basavaraj Bommai had said.
It was not just Bommai but the BJP’s Twitter handle also speculated that the bag of explosives was planted by ‘jihadi elements’. “He doubted surgical strikes, he released doctored CDs to show that peaceful protestors didn’t indulge in violence, now he is blaming the police for the live bomb diffused in Mangaluru. Is there no end to Appeasement Politics by former CM HD Kumaraswamy? Why cry for Jihadis?” tweeted BJP Karnataka.
The tweet was in response to former Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy accusing the BJP of “spinning the story with a different angle”.
Members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the group that spearheaded the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, also speculated that the bomb had been planted by terrorists. “Bomb found in a leftover bag at Mangalore airport. Jihadis are looking for ways to penetrate and hit. Be careful all. Inform to authorities about any suspicious activities seen around. Inform if seeing any left over bags or anything. Be careful about jihadis,” tweeted Prateesh Vishwanath, a VHP member.
Several media reports surfaced stating that the police were looking for a second bag, which contained another bomb. News channels alleged that the man, who left the bag at the airport had also planned an attack on the temple in Kadri.
Several Kannada channels and newspapers went on to allege that the attempt to plant a bomb was done in retaliation against the death of two Muslim men in the police firing after violence erupted in Mangaluru on December 19.
When the tune changed
The tone used above changed drastically after Aditya Rao’s name surfaced as the prime suspect on Wednesday night.
Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai too changed his tune and said, “Aditya Rao has surrendered to the police. We never speculated about the suspect’s community or organisation. We had only said that whoever was behind the incident would be brought before justice, and we have done that,” he said.
“This was not even a serious issue. Based on the information by the police, it looks like Aditya Rao was mentally ill. Aditya Rao is harmless and there was no major threat at all,” a local TV anchor said during the show.
Muneer Katipala, Mangaluru President of the Democratic Youth Federation of India, says that the political leaders and the media, who were calling it a targeted terror attack swiftly made a complete U-turn when they found that the suspect is a Hindu.
“As soon as someone says a bomb was found, the first reaction was that the suspect is a jihadi and a Muslim. This has been normalised by the various political outfits that operate in Mangaluru and they have been planting this fear in the society. The media too is involved in spreading this fear of Islam. Political leaders began saying these are anti-national jihadis out to destroy peace but when they found that the suspect is a Hindu, they began saying he is harmless and suffers from mental illness. The bias is very evident,” he says.
Rao taken to airport, identifies spot where he placed bomb
Adithya Rao, the accused, who allegedly placed an explosive device at Mangaluru International Airport on January 20 was taken to the spot of crime on Friday.
An investigation team led by sub-inspector Belliyappa took Rao to the spot at Mangaluru International Airport. Rao identified the place where he came in from, placed the bomb and again left the place.
Rao was produced at the sixth JMFC court at Bavutagudda on Thursday. He was sent to 10-day police custody by Justice Kishore Kumar.
Aditya Rao will be taken to Chennai in police custody. The police team is expected to travel there within the next ten days. Adithya Rao had obtained chemical and gelatine detonator from Chennai.
Police had requested court for 15-day custody. The judge granted 10 days custody directing to collect necessary information by ten days.