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Arvi Krishnaswamy

Entrepreneur and Tech Executive

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Rajkumar, the Kannada thespian died of a cardiac arrest at the age of 77 last Wednesday, and the state plunged into mourning the demise of their beloved movie star. But what surprised many and shocked some were the riots that followed – buses, cars and bikes set on fire by crazed fans on the streets, all public transport systems coming to a halt, corporate offices stoned, Kanteerva stadium trashed, a state wide government supported bandh the next day, and flag toting fanatics on the street ensuring all establishments were shut down.

Devoted fans carrying Rajkumar’s picture through the streets

Several parts of Bangalore reported stories of looting and pillage. In some areas, an entire neighborhood was plundered by a mob that broke into houses, with no apparent motive. Newspapers featured various psychologists explaining the reasons for the riots, and drawing analogies to similar incidents that occured when MGR died in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. But then, its easy to dismiss the events by drawing an analogy to an Elvis dying in Memphis. This perhaps runs deeper, and maybe points to the resentment and anger of a deprived working class in a city with growing divides between the rich and the poor.

Images of arson on the Bangalore streets – cars and buses being burnt down.

On the day of the bandh, I drove around for a few hours since I was out of groceries and was trying to find an open shop somewhere. But all shops except pharmacies were closed, and some of the closed ones even had a Rajkumar poster on them – perhaps due to reverence for the star, or more probably so to keep out irreverent fans on a pillage roll. Petrol stations were shut down as well, and I saw a flag toting mob on bikes doing the rounds.

A colleague of mine recently cracked a traffic joke -

Q: “Which side of the road do you drive on in Bangalore?

A: “Wherever there’s space left”.

But today, the city might as well have been a ghost town, with not a soul on the streets. Since shops werent open, I quickly bought some overpriced fruits from an enterprising streetside vendor who had parked his cart off 100 ft road, and then headed home to catch up with reading and surf through TV channels, all of which were playing Rajkumar movies. So we've made it through this weekend, but then questions persist. Why were there not enough policemen to ensure law and order prevailed? Why were there not backups or army reinforcements? Does the 'India shining' IT capitol need to plunge in the darkness and panic of what felt like a city under Taliban regime when a cine star dies? Does this set a precedent for things to come?