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Mangalore strongman’s reach felt till Bangalore

So far,RSS leader Kalladka’s clout was visible only in his region

Written by Johnson T A | Bangalore |
August 13, 2012 3:11:58 am

Some call him the Bal Thackeray of Mangalore. A Congress MLA referred to him as the supreme commander of Mangalore,above any police officer or district official. Last January,a speech he delivered at a Hindu Samajyothsav had such venom that Congress leaders demanded his arrest.

The name of Prabhakar Bhat Kalladka,a top RSS leader from Mangalore,has floated around the public domain as the most powerful man in the political,administrative establishment in Karnataka since the right-wing BJP came to power in the state in 2008.

Yet,Dr Kalladka’s might was never really visible beyond the confines of the coastal district of Mangalore,though it was always said he was a power centre in the BJP government on par with B S Yeddyurappa or the Reddy brothers of Bellary.

Only over the last month or so have glimpses of Kalladka’s clout emerged beyond Mangalore — in the context of two incidents related to the region. One involved the appointment of a minister in Jagadish Shettar’s new ministry. The second glimpse came during discussions in the aftermath of an attack by the Hindu Jagaran Vedike on girls at a July 28 party in Mangalore.

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Haladi Srinivas Shetty,a BJP MLA from the coastal region and popularly described as an honest leader with secular credentials and “the Vajpayee of Kundapur”,had been summoned to Bangalore by BJP bosses on July 12 to be sworn into the new cabinet. At the eleventh hour,he found himself replaced.

Shetty has since quit as a BJP MLA and blamed Kalladka for being responsible for his omission. “Maybe it is because I never fell at his feet that I am not getting a berth,” said Shetty,now being wooed by the Janata Dal (Secular). Another surprise decision in the cabinet,the inclusion of a businessman,too is believed to have been carried out with Kalladka’s approval.

Kalladka denies having had any role. “Making people ministers is in the hands of the BJP,not in my hands,” he said. “Somebody has cheated Shetty. A very poor man,Srinivas Poojary (an MLC) from Mangalore,is in the ministry. How does it benefit me to deny Shetty and make Poojary a minister?”

His name came up again during a July 30 discussion in the Assembly on the recent Mangalore attack,similar to the one in January 2009 on women at a pub. Veteran Mangalore legislator Vasanth Bangera of the Congress blamed Kalladka’s extra-constitutional authority for the impunity with which right-wing groups operate.

“There is a chief commander for Mangalore who is above the collector,the superintendent of police or anybody — Dr Kalladka. The control of the whole district is with Prabhakar Bhat Kalladka,” Bangera said. “Why is it that the police cannot control these groups like the Bajrang Dal,the Sri Rama Sene or the Hindu Jagaran Vedike? All these groups get their strength from Kalladka. I came to politics 40 years ago and have never seen a chief controller like him.”

Muscle power

Several police officers admit Kalladka is powerful and has an influence on administration,though they insist the influence is not overbearing.

“It is natural that he is a powerful figure. He is credited with crafting the BJP’s victory in Karnataka and people tend to listen to him,” said a top state police officer. “It is not true that he influences police action in attack cases. In fact,the RSS wants to disassociate itself from groups like the Hindu Jagaran Vedike.”

But a police officer who has served in the region said,“Kalladka does exercise influence on senior police officers in the region who enjoy his patronage. As the southern region head of the RSS he is a very influential person. With the society in Mangalore polarised on communal lines he plays a key role,a dangerous one.”

Kalladka himself says he does not enjoy any such status. “We work for peace and love among the people. When there is no question of money or authority,where is the question of being a supreme commander? In the RSS there is no scope for this.”

In recent speeches in Mangalore,however,Kalladka has justified moral policing by right-wing groups. “We are not worried about cases being filed against us… we are fighting for a Hindu society,” Kalladka said in a speech in January. He has announced that groups such as the Bajrang Dal and the Hindu Jagaran Vedike are only trying to protect Hindu culture through moral policing.

There have been reports about his opposition to the invocation of stringent repeat-offender laws,such as the Goonda Act against the attackers from the Hindu Jagaran Vedike. But he insists he is in favour of stringent laws — provided these are applied uniformly. “There should not be one rule for Hindus and another rule for others. There was a group of Muslim men who attacked a girl on a train in Mandya; let the Goonda Act be invoked in that case too,” he said.

Political clout

Kalladka,who enjoyed good relations with Yeddyurappa when he was chief minister,did not share such bonhomie with successor D V Sadananda Gowda,who is from Mangalore. Gowda is a protégé of Ram Bhat,Kalladka’s brother-in-law who has now turned his foe within the RSS. Besides,Gowda allowed the police to crack down on moral policing cases.

“I would like to remind the police that it is we who will protect their wives and children after they retire,” Kalladka said on one occasion during Gowda’s tenure after police released a Muslim boy and a Hindu girl and booked four Hindu Jagaran Vedike men who had detained them on a bus.

Kalladka,who was the RSS’s dakshin pranth karyavah through most of the BJP tenure,is currently the dakshin madhya kshetriya sampark pramukh,sources said,describing it as a marginally lower position.

In the 2009 parliamentary elections,held in the backdrop of attacks on churches and the women at the pub,Kalladka showed his political clout when his young candidate,Nalin Kumar Kateel,44,defeated Congress veteran Janardhan Poojary. Ahead of the polls,Kalladka had predicted that the attacks would work in favour of the BJP rather than against it. The RSS deployed its entire organisational might in the elections.

“Causing divisions in the society in Mangalore through moral policing benefits the BJP and its claim to be the sole protectors of Hindu culture in the polarised environment,” said a Mangalore legislator.

Kalladka is now widely believed to be pitching for a prominent position,such as the state BJP leadership,for his blue-eyed boy Kateel.

“I do not interfere in these things. I have not discussed or proposed this,” he insisted. “All are our friends and it does not matter who becomes the president. I have no interest in politics. I am working to make the voice of ordinary people heard.”

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