Disclaimer: These are personal opinions of the author on the Bengaluru riots and its impact on the economy of our country.
Bengaluru is a comparatively new city, yet it is the Silicon Valley of the country, which serves as one of the major IT hubs for the world. It can also be considered as the Startup capital of our nation. Before dwelling on the main topic, I feel it is necessary to know a little background of the entire scenario.
While cities like Mumbai, Delhi, etc., have existed for centuries as major Indian economic and trade centers, Bengaluru, came into prominence only during the later part of the previous Millenium and the early part of this Millenium, starting with the shift of the Infosys office from Pune to Bangalore.
At a time when computers were just emerging, the weather of Bengaluru played a big role. Back then computers were not accustomed to go through high room temperatures and low room temperatures, Bangalore’s stable, moderate year-round climate helped with that. Also, the geo-location of Bengaluru in the South of India, away from neighboring countries, made it a safe choice for the Government.
Any aggression from the neighbors would have minimal impact as Bengaluru was a comfortable distance away from the frontlines. Here is a more detailed expansion of what aided this transformation of Bengaluru.
All these factors played in together as a huge amount of people invested in Bengaluru, including the Government, and turned it into the megacity that we see today. As the industry grew, so did the need for human resources. People from across the country started going to Bengaluru for work, with a big chunk of people settling down there. The settlers in Bengaluru are from all parts of India, making Bengaluru a very culturally rich and diverse place.
Over the years, Bengaluru has become prosperous. This prosperity comes from the people of this cosmopolitan city who went about their business with dedication. There were no communal clashes on any scale over the years despite the melange of cultures. Something many places in the eastern and northern parts of India suffer from regularly. Bengaluru takes pride in its cosmopolitan culture, and this is shown in the positive economic output over the years.
The stark contrast with the eastern parts of India in terms of development shows how economically beneficial it is for everyone when things like religion or place of origin do not impose any kind of sanctions on the people. Thus, it can also be safely assumed that a hit on the booming economy of Bengaluru directly or indirectly will impact the entire country, economically and otherwise.
The Bengaluru Riots of August 2020
On 11th August 2020, the nephew of a local MLA posted something about the Prophet Mohammed, that was deemed offensive by his followers. The law of the land is clear, and the culprit who posted this could have been taken to court, but the radical elements within the minority community decided to take matters into their own hands.
Armed with weapons but not masks, a call to arms was taken up by a large number of people belonging to the offended community as multiple people even posted provocative things on social media platforms, mostly Facebook, asking others of the same community to take up arms with them for the grave injustice of the insult to their religion on a Social media post.
As the number of such protesters increased, the police detained the MLA’s nephew and tried to defuse the situation but to no avail. As time went by, two police stations were attacked by the mob, along with the mob torching a lot of public property. As a result, the police had no choice but to take an aggressive stance and opened fire, resulting in 3 deaths.
Overall the toll was over 60 police personnel injured, 5 injured in police firing and three deaths. As the state government cracked down to defuse the situation before further damage can occur, by the next day, over 100 people related to the incident were arrested. As of 14th August 2020, the number of people arrested is 149, including the people who were detained by the police.
Seemingly the riot was effectively stopped. Since the place where the incident occurred was at a great distance away from the main commercial and industrial places in Bengaluru, people might think that the end of the riot means the end of the entire situation. But the ground reality, in my personal opinion, is a lot different than what we just see.
Charlie Hebdo and Lessons from the Riots in France
This case can be seen as having an uncanny similarity to the Charlie Hebdo shootings that occurred in France in 2015. Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical weekly magazine printed a satire on Prophet Muhammad. The article spawned a terror attack by a sect of the offended people resulting in 12 people dying. The rest of the world was absolutely shocked at the barbarity of the incident.
Millions of people all over the world took up the slogan “Je Suis Charlie,” which translates to “I am Charlie too,” in solidarity with the people who lost their lives and to show their support for freedom of speech that an organization holds.
Because of the massive support they got, France managed to overcome the incident. A week later, a special edition of Charlie Hebdo came out, which was made by the few team members who were still alive after the shooting. This time having a picture of Prophet Muhammad holding a “Je Suis Charlie” plaque, with the title of Tout est pardonné“ (“All is forgiven”).
The new picture again drew controversy all over the world and led to riots in various places, which led to 10 deaths. I drew this comparison to point out that to get over such an incident, a very strong unity between the people of a country is needed. I believe that India lacks this unity, because of the many divisions present in our society, leave alone the differences in religious beliefs.
Bengaluru Riots -How it will negatively impact the economy
I am not an economist, neither do I know much about the economy, so all of this is my assumption from my limited knowledge about how things work. Keeping in mind sentiments and ideologies we have does not mix with economics, here are my 2 cents on this topic.
A majority of the Headquarters of the MNCs, as well as, many start-ups are based out of Bengaluru. However, the riots occurred away from the major industrial and commercial hubs of Bengaluru. So, does that mean that everything will remain unaffected? I would say no.
Collateral damage is not just measured by the immediate damage but by checking and including the aftereffects of the incident. As mentioned earlier, the unprecedented growth of Bengaluru is to a large extent, because communal riots were not a thing at all there.
During the initial phases of the COVID 19 Crisis Lockdown, a riot did happen in Bengaluru when rumors were spread that the people coming to check for Coronavirus patients would be quarantined in hospitals. Something that the local Muslim residents did not want, which lead to violent protests, but at the same time, this was just a riot and not a communal riot between two different communities. The recent one, though, was communal.
The basic observation will be that a lot of public property was destroyed. Public property means taxpayer money, so damages to that mean damage to the country. The State Government has taken the initiative to recover the money from the perpetrators of the Bengaluru riots. The plan is to auction all their property if needed instead of wasting any more taxpayer money. This is a good plan on paper but does not address the larger problem at hand.
A communal riot is a foremost indication that a religious divide is present in the place. With the recent Bengaluru riots, the divide has come out into the open. People of the two communities will now be prejudiced even though they may not have been affected directly. The prejudice will be severe for people who got directly or indirectly affected by the Bengaluru riots.
A large scale communal riot points towards more of these cases happening in the future. It is impossible to predict where the next riot will happen, and if all localities will be safe or not. The seeds of discord have been planted and, unless removed, will grow and create further animosity between the communities. The thriving economy that grew based on harmony and peace itself is going to be threatened.
Companies that invest in Bengaluru and India have a new issue to factor in before investing. How safe is Bengaluru? This was not a question that was needed to be asked earlier, allowing a much more lenient flow of money into the Indian ecosystem.
Companies won’t pull out from India just like that since India is one of the most profitable sectors for them. I feel, however, that the pumping in of new funds will undoubtedly get a little choked. The Government can take measures to stop this, but the vote bank politics is not one that will allow the situation to get completely normalized.
Politics and Community
Politicians will look to capitalize on the case for their personal gains more than the overall growth of the country. The citizens can play a considerable role by standing in solidarity together as humans and not as followers of some religion. In a diverse country like India, where every religion has been oppressed, it is a much tougher thing to achieve.
The real-life financial implications that the riots had on Bengaluru and on the country as a whole is yet to be seen as it is still too soon to be concluding. Still, the one thing that’s for sure is how things would have been so much better without such incidents taking place.