Bengaluru: Bengaluru south MP Tejasvi Surya courted controversy for unfairly targeting members of the Muslim community during his inspection of the Covid-19 war room in south Bengaluru on Tuesday. During the inspection, he read out the names of 17 out of the 205 persons employed at the centre, asking their qualifications. All of them were Muslim names.
While there has been outrage against his statements in social media and civil society, lawyers in the city say his actions should result in a police FIR.
In a video that has been in circulation since the inspection, Surya, standing along with MLAs Satish Reddy and Ravi Subramanya, is seen reading out the names of the 17 Muslim employees at the centre and demanded the qualifications of these persons.
A staffer responded to him saying all of them were hired after applications were invited by the BBMP for agencies. In response, MLA Subramanya is heard asking, “Only these people are sending applications?” He then goes on to add that, “Are you hiring for a corporation or a Madarasa?”
Surya then demanded the details of the hiring agency and sought to know the qualification of the 17. The series of communal references was live-streamed on the MLA’s social media handles.
No questions were raised about the qualifications of other employees. An officer familiar with the matter said the process is on to replace that outsourcing agency that hired the 17 Muslims.
A BBMP official said on condition of anonymity that these 17 people were part of the 205 people employed by the BBMP at the war room. A list of these 205 employees is available with HT.
The MP claimed at a press conference that he had uncovered a massive fraud in how the BBMP war-room books beds. Interestingly, the BBMP is controlled by his own party, the BJP. Surya claimed that there was a “bribe for beds” scam, with BBMP officials, third-party agents, and employees hired for the war-room all playing a part — blocking hospital beds in the names of asymptomatic people (without their knowledge) and releasing them 12 hours later to those willing to pay.
When HT contacted Bengaluru police, they said two FITs have been registered in the case, and subsequently transfrred to the Crime Branch, but that none of these 17 men was part of it. Joint Commissioner of Police Sandeep Patil identified the four accused as Rihan, Shashi, Rohit, and Netravati. “As part of the investigation, we have conducted searches in all eight zonal war rooms,” he added.
However, soon after the MP’s press conference about his inspection, a WhatsApp message titled “List of terrorists working in BBMP WAR ROOM killing thousands of Bengalurians” began doing rounds in Bengaluru. The message listed 16 of the 17 names mentioned by the Surya in his live stream. HT could not ascertain the origin of the WhatsApp message.
Amother WhatsApp message targeted BBMP joint commissioner Sarfaraz Khan and said he “has to be made accountable”. In response, the official said in a Facebook post that he has nothing to do with the war-room, “I’m extremely pained to see WhatsApp messages, where my name is dragged into the mismanagement of the BBMP war room established for the allocation of beds. It was shocking for a simple reason that I have no role in the war room, nor do I know any doctor in the war room. My job is to take care of Covid Care Centres and Solid Waste Management,” he wrote. Khan subsequently filed a complaint with the Bengaluru police, seeking an investigation by the cyber cell to track down those responsible for the message.
A legal expert in the city said that Surya’s actions were not only disturbing but should invite legal action. “The communalisation of this incident is deeply disturbing. The MP reads out the names of 17 Muslims there ? What does that imply? Even in the press conference, he mentions the name of a Christian doctor. But the fact is that police have not arrested any of these 17 people or the Christian doctor, instead, they have arrested one Rohit and one Netra. He doesn’t mention those names,” said Vinaya Srinivasa a city-based lawyer.
Surya didn’t respond to calls and a WhatsApp message seeking comment.