Rajat Sharma

Jodhpur riots: Who is to blame?

rajat-sirCommunal clashes took place in Jodhpur city of Rajasthan on Eid Day (Tuesday) and till now 97 persons have been rounded up by police. Muslims took part in Eid namaaz on Tuesday morning, and soon after the namaaz was over, there was stone pelting. Swords were brandished, lathis were used and bottles filled with acid were thrown. Several dozen vehicles were smashed and homes were stoned.

Curfew has been enforced in ten police station areas of Jodhpur city since Tuesday. The clashes happened in Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot’s home constituency, and Tuesday was his birthday. The chief minister cancelled all birthday celebrations and held meetings to control the situation. More than 1,000 police personnel have been deployed in the city. Mobile internet services have been suspended in Jodhpur.

Chief Minister Gehlot appealed to both the communities to maintain harmony. He sent two of his ministers, Rajendra Yadav and Subhash Garg, along with top police officers to the city. The moot questions is why the city police was not on alert, because on the night preceding Eid ul-Fitr there were clashes between two groups over hoisting of flags.

At Jalori Gate of Jodhpur stands the statue of freedom fighter Balmukund Bissa, who died at the age of 34 during the Quit India movement in 1942. He is known as the equivalent of great revolutionary Bagha Jatin. On Monday night, some mischievous elements from Muslim community removed a saffron flag and planted an Islamic flag near the statue. They put black tape on the face of the freedom fighter’s statue. This was done intentionally because local Hindu outfits had decorated the centrally located area with colourful festoons to celebrate Akshay Tritiya and Parshuram Jayanti festivals.

Hindu and Muslim youths first quarrelled and then came to blows. Lathis, swords and stones were used during the clash. Nobody knew whether these weapons had been stored with an intent to cause violence. Muslim youths shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ and protested when the Islamic flag was sought to be removed. Hindu youths shouted ‘Jai Bajrangbali’ and ‘Jai Shree Ram’ to counter them. It soon spread to the congested localities, where rioters damaged vehicles and stoned homes.

Jalori Gate falls under Jodhpur’s Sursagar assembly constituency, from where Suryakanta Vyas is the BJP MLA. Her home was also stoned and vehicles parked outside her house were set on fire. The lady MLA tried her best to persuade the mob to stop violence. She told media that she never dreamed that there would be violence in the locality on the eve of Eid.

Surprisingly, the local administration did not wake up in time, and allowd Muslism to offer Eid namaaz on the main road. This led to deterioration in the situation. BJP MP from Jodhpur and Union Jalshakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat said, the administration had given a free hand to the Muslim community and this rouses suspicion whether the clashes took place intentionally. The worst hit was the Sunar Mohalla (goldsmiths’ locality), where the Union Minister met the affected families, despite resistance from local police. Hindus in the locality started reciting Hanuman Chalisa in front of police and demanded immediate action against rioters.

After overnight violence, when Muslims assembled for morning Eid prayers there was palpable tension in Jalori Gate locality. The prayer was over peacefully, but soon after people started stoning. Police personnel deployed at the spot looked helpless. Several dozen vehicles were smashed by rioters.

Police then resorted to lathicharge and firing of tear gas shells, and later curfew was enforced till Wednesday night. During the melee, several thousand shoes and sandals lay scattered in the area. Soon after violence spread in the densely populated lanes and bylanes. The rioters smashed vehicles, ATM machines and the glass windows of shops. Even children and women were targeted.

In Kabutar Chowk locality, the mob beat up a five-year-old girl. Local Hindus were outraged and said that they were shocked to see their Muslim brethren indulging in violence. CCTV videos clearly showed a mob carrying swords, stones and lathis attacking motorbikers. One rioter threw a sword at a youth driving a bike.

After imposition of curfew, dozens of Muslims took shelter in the Jalam Bawdi mosque in Jalori Gate locality. Later police helped them to return to their homes. While BJP leaders blamed the Congress government in Rajasthan for communal violence, Congress spokesman Randeep Surjewala blamed BJP leaders for fomenting violence. He said, BJP is planning to incite communal riots in MP and Chhattisgarh took, which will go to polls next year.

The Congress is in power in Rajasthan and Surjewala cannot just go away by making a political statement. If BJP had planned the violence, the question arises: Why is the Rajasthan Police not arresting BJP workers and leaders? Who has stopped the state police?

On the other hand, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot understands this sensitive issue. He did not make any political remark, but took senior police and district officials to task. Clashes between two groups may take place any time, but if clashes take place at night, and in the morning, stones and acid bottles were thrown, the question arises: What was the local administration doing through the night? Why didn’t the administration keep track of preparations being made by rioters?

Rajasthan is in focus, because this is the second communal clash in the last one month. On April 2, during Ramnavami festival there was violence in Karauli and the state police chief remarked that objectionable DJ songs were being played during the Ramnavami procession, there were provocative slogans and this resulte din violence. To link all issues with elections is not the right step. Questions are being asked why the administration allowed Eid prayers on an open road, hours after clashes took place at night. There is no cogent answer till now.

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