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Bloodbath over a pamphlet - Outlook

M.S. Shanker ()
June 22, 1998

Title: Bloodbath over a pamphlet
Author: M.S. Shanker
Publication: Outlook
Date: June 22, 1998

In the end, it took a sheaf of pamphlets to shatter the peace.
But the communal violence which rocked Muslim-dominated pockets
of Hyderabad on June 5 after an eight-year lull should not have
come as a surprise. In fact, police commissioner R.P. Singh
admitted as much. Pointing out that the police should have given
more credence to intelligence reports and the discovery of
pamphlets in the Old City lampooning the religious beliefs of
Muslims, he said the "complacent" police force must shoulder part
of the blame.

Once the storm warnings were ignored, rioters let loose on a
Black Friday, killing eight and injuring over a 100. The violence
and arson seemed to have been well-planned and has broken the
thin fabric of communal harmony in the city. The violence was
ignited by an irate mob which stormed out of a mosque after
offering prayers and went berserk, attacking passersby and
damaging public and private property alike, including a temple.
The Hindus retaliated the next day, further stoking communal
fires and bringing Hyderabad to a halt.

The police has not come up with any explanation for ignoring the
"mischievous" anti-Muslim pamphlet which had a visual of Lord
Ganesha trampling upon Muslim places of worship. The pamphlet was
in circulation from June 2 itself but the police did not attempt
to identify the people who had printed it-nor did it try to
arrest those responsible for its distribution. Even now, the
source of the offending literature remains a mystery.

If the police chose to ignore the signals out of sheer apathy,
policemen on duty failed to act when they saw the mob running
amok outside a mosque near the historic Charminar monument. The
cops remained mute spectators and didn't even use mild force to
keep the arsonists in check. Even more surprising was the fact
that the police failed to take any precautionary measure to
prevent the violence from escalating the next day.

This, despite the fact that there were repeated messages from
intelligence officials of possible violence. The Hyderabad police
force appeared to have underestimated the effect such a
"controversial" and "mischievous" pamphlet would have on the
minority community. The police took it so lightly that it didn't
even post additional forces in sensitive areas. The intelligence
input, it is learnt, was specific and a copy of the offensive
pamphlet was also provided to the local police.

If the last riots in 1990 were well organised only to unseat then
chief minister M. Chenna Reddy, allegedly by his own partymen,
the latest bout of violence is believed to be the handiwork of
some hardcore fundamentalist outfit. The state police does not
rule out ISI involvement either. In fact, the ISI connection was
established with the arrest of Sheikh Mahboob All, the brain
behind the rioting who is known to have links with the Pakistan
intelligence outfit. Says police chief Singh: "Ali is the
founder of the Darzgah Jeehad-O- Shadath, a city-based militant
group which was formed some 15 years ago." This Muslim group's
main objective is to recruit and train youth in self-defence. But
the police is yet to lay its hands on any concrete evidence to
identify the culprits of the communal bloodletting.

Ali apart, the police have also arrested another group of
youngsters, who allegedly tried to torch a state-owned Road
Transport Corporation bus last Sunday. For now, the police is
working on the ISI nexus and is following up leads in that
direction. That the ISI is active in the city is an open secret-
the killing of an SP rank officer a couple of years ago by
militants is testimony to this.

But the police are not leaving the other theories unprobed. One
of them is that some fundamentalist outfit, enjoying the backing
of one political party or other, may have been used to settle
scores with the ruling party. Admits a senior police official:
"We are not blind to the fact that one of the legislator's sons
is acting as an ISI agent in the city. But we have no concrete
evidence to nab him."

Such a theory gains strength when one takes into account that
political parties, such as the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM)
and the Majlis Bachao Tehrik (MBT), representing the Muslim
community, have been very vocal in recording their ire against
Chandrababu Naidu's decision to back the Vajpayee government
during the trust vote. Points out another senior police official:
"We are also probing the involvement of other major political
players, either directly or indirectly in the violence."

The suspicion that the ISI's involvement with a city-based
fundamentalist outfit may have been responsible for the riots was
first revealed by Union minister of state for urban development
B. Dattatreya, who quoted some senior police officials to this
effect. But, chief minister Naidu chose to be cautious. "Why jump
to conclusions? We got clinching evidence against those who
indulged in violence with the help of video cameras. We have
already taken some people into custody. Investigations will help
bring the culprits to book," he told the media.

It is true that Naidu spared no personal effort to defuse the
tension. He visited the affected areas soon after hearing the
news amidst the celebrations following the TDP's good showing in
the assembly byelections. In a bid to soothe ruffled feathers,
the chief minister announced the government's decision to set up
special courts to try the culprits. He ordered separate
rehabilitation camps for Hindus and Muslims and granted
compensation for the victims. To ensure more effective policing,
Naidu has plans to set up video cameras in all sensitive areas of
the Old City.

But the Congress is in no mood to spare either Naidu or the
police. PCC president Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, whose father was
killed in a bomb attack by Telugu Desam activists last month, has
demanded a CBI probe into the communal flareup. His party also
feels that as the law and order situation is deteriorating in the
state, it would be proper for the Centre to impose President's
rule.

The Congress high command too has been active in its effort to
nail the TDP government. A three-member committee consisting of
N.K.P. Salve, Nawal Kishore Sharma and Ghulam Nabi Azad, after
visiting riot-hit areas, blamed the government for its
inefficiency to contain violence.

The Opposition parties see in the June 5 violence echoes of
Coimbatore and argue that the Centre should take serious note of
the ground situation in Hyderabad and that effective steps must
be initiated to ensure that the violence does not spread to other
parts of the state. However, BJP leader and Union minister
Dattatreya feels otherwise. While expressing his dissatisfaction
at the manner in which the police failed to act, he made it clear
that there was no need for a CBI probe. He is obviously trying
to bail out Naidu. Any detailed investigation into the incident
would also expose some Hindu groups which allegedly took part in
the second round of violence.

Naidu's woes are not confined to the Old City alone. The
outlawed People's War Group (PWG) has stepped up violence and the
Madiga Porata Samiti (a Scheduled Caste group) has declared war
against the government, which is pressing for categorisation of
SCs into four groups. While the PWG in its latest outburst killed
as many as 10 policemen in a landmine blast in Warangal, the
Madiga Porata Samiti activists destroyed government property,
protesting against Naidu's decision to categorise SCs.

With assembly elections due early next year, the communal flare-
up spells trouble for Naidu. The minorities which are already
upset by the TDP chief's truck with the BJP will be further
alienated. The Muslim votebank has always supported Naidu, and
wooing it back will be top priority for the Andhra Pradesh chief
minister.


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