By RAJAT RAI
Western Uttar Pradesh is burning again. Communal tension is simmering in the region, even as the state government offers lipservice against such repeated violence.
On Saturday, at least three persons were killed and over two dozen were injured after two groups belonging to two different minority communities clashed in the Saharanpur district of western Uttar Pradesh.
Besides civilians, a city magistrate and about half-a-dozen policemen were also injured.
Shops, petrol pumps and government properties were burnt, prompting police action and deployment of paramilitary forces.
As the district administration rushed in with more troopers to control the situation, the grim reality of unabated violence clouded Saharanpur. In the end, the entire district was brought under curfew, with fear of more violence looming large over the region.
Saharanpur’s violence has attracted political reactions, more so with the Assembly by-election not far away. The BJP blamed leaders of a particular community for the violence.
“As Assembly by-election will be held in Saharanpur, some community leaders are trying to polarise a particular vote bank in their favour, and that is why they planned such a violent act to disturb the law and order. Also, the district police administration is to be blamed as they were aware of the tension and did not take necessary steps to prevent it,” Saharanpur BJP MP Raghav Lakhan Pal, who was earlier the MLA from the area, told the media.
Trouble began late on Friday night on Gurudwara Road in the Qutub Sheikh locality of the town, where a group belonging to a particular community decided to build on a disputed piece of land.
Litigation was going on in the High Court over this land, and a few days back the Court had decided in favour of the community which began construction on Friday.
Though the local police tried to control the situation by using mild force, trouble spread to other parts of the district. It forced the district administration to rush in more policemen. On Saturday morning, the police recovered two bodies in the Mandi Police Circle. Both the bodies bore bullet marks.
While one person was identified as Harish Kochar, a local BJP activist, the identity of the other person was yet to be ascertained. As the news spread, miscreants started torching public and government properties, and over dozens of shops and vehicles were set on fire. A petrol pump was also set ablaze.
The police resorted to lathi-charge, and also fired rubber bullets and teargas shells to control the situation. A curfew was imposed in three police circles by Saturday afternoon. However, considering the gravity of the situation, the administration later decided to implement the curfew in the entire district.
By Saturday evening, the administration also roped in the military for assistance.
“Forces from the neighbouring districts have also been roped in to control the situation. As far as the latest information, two persons have died and 17 have been injured. The inspector general of Meerut has taken charge of the situation, and we are monitoring the situation. The situation is tense but under control,” ADG (law and order) Mukul Goel told media persons in Lucknow earlier during the day.
However by evening, a third person, Arif, who was injured in the rioting, died at a Meerut hospital.
With tensions on the ground, the Narendra Modi-led government felt it necessary to step in. Around 600 paramilitary force personnel have now been sent to Uttar Pradesh by the Union government to maintain law and order in the state, in the wake of violence.
The decision to send in the paramilitary forces was taken after Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh spoke to UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, official sources said. Singh offered all assistance to contain the situation.
Just days ago, communal tension reached a boiling point when the issue of removing a loudspeaker from a temple at a village in Kanth area of Moradabad took on a communal colour. The loudspeaker was removed on the application of local MLA Anees-ur-Rehman. Before the trouble could be controlled, police and BJP activists clashed, adding a political colour to it all.
The situation panicked the local villagers, who have been living in harmony in the area for generations. And their opinions also got divided on whether BJP was welcome to intervene in the trouble.
Clashes over trivial issues – loudspeakers, playing of drums, bursting of crackers – leading to deaths and more violence have become a regular feature in a state that has earned the reputation of being the most riot-affected place in the country.
Last year, UP topped the list of riots with 247 cases of communal violence out of a total of 823 such incidents recorded in India.
It’s a harsh statistic that Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju shared in a reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha recently.
Observers say the data is an ignominy that Akhilesh’s government cannot deny. Despite the CM’s tough talks against riots and violence, statistics indicate that the state, especially western UP, seems to be on the road to perdition.