The Congress party in Karnataka turned out to be the unwitting victim in the aftermath of late night mob violence and riots in Bengaluru over a controversial Facebook post that left three persons dead and scores injured.

The post, put out by the nephew of a Congress MLA, angered sections of Muslims, whose protest on Tuesday evening soon spiralled into a mayhem that saw attacks on police stations and police personnel, and widespread destruction of properties and vehicles in DJ Halli, KJ Halli and Kaval Byrasandra areas of northeast Bengaluru.

The script for the violence had been in the making in the DJ Halli area for some time now owing to the intense political rivalry to win the municipal elections, according to people aware of the matter.

The term of the Bengaluru’s civic body, BBMP, is coming to an end, and two ambitious youth leaders aspired to be the next corporators from the Sagayapuram ward. One of them is the nephew of local Congress MLA, Akhanda Srinivasa Murthy, while the other belonged to the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), the political arm of the Popular Front of India. Both youth leaders had been sewing up strategies to limit the influence of the other, said the people.

Riots broke out over an alleged post by Naveen, the local MLA’s nephew. His political rival and SDPI activist Muzamil Pasha and others allegedly alerted members of the Muslim community and incited the trouble, according to Bengaluru City police.

An aspirant for BBMP councillor post, Naveen had been active on Facebook, wishing his Muslim friends on their festivals, even as he celebrated the Hindu events. He had friends across religious groups and had been undecided about the party to contest from, according to the people cited earlier.

Pasha, who had unsuccessfully contested the municipal polls once, and the SDPI had been working to consolidate Muslim votes, leading to concern in the Congress for some time now.

Pasha and his friends made use of the controversial FB post and sought to turn the occasion of filing a police complaint into a protest event, where they also made speeches, police alleged. It did not take much time for the protest to turn violent, leading to police firing and death of three youths.

By Wednesday morning, the chain of events had clearly left the Congress clueless. The media had identified the person behind the controversial FB post as the nephew of the Congress MLA. The party has been counting on the votes of Muslims, besides those of the other minorities, and the SDPI’s growing clout meant further erosion in the party’s voter base.

This explains why the Congress was muted in its criticism of the vandalism on the residence of party MLA Murthy. Its leaders sought to project it more as a law and order problem, calling for tough action against the “miscreants”, cautious not to walk into the SDPI’s trap.

By the afternoon, Karnataka Pradesh Congress president DK Shivakumar ring-fenced his MLA colleague Murthy. He not just distanced the Congress from Naveen’s post but also accused him of being a BJP supporter, producing some social media posts to prove his accusation.

The BJP, meanwhile, watched with interest as chief minister BS Yediyurappa asked the police to take tough action on the people behind the riots. Naveen and Pasha are among the 140 persons arrested by the Bengaluru City police.

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