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Godhra embers smoulder next door

Mumbai, Oct. 21: A minor altercation flared into a raging riot in Badlapur, Thane, late last night leaving 25 people wounded as Maharashtra geared up to tackle its fourth communal violence in less than a month.

While police battled to bring the violence in Badlapur’s Bazar area under control, flames of communal hatred blazed elsewhere, too. Clashes in Shendurjana, Amravati, left around 20 policemen and 10 others wounded.

In Badlapur, rampaging mobs stormed Katrap village looting shops and burning business establishments. The violence erupted following an altercation between two youths belonging to different communities. As news of the quarrel spread, people from both sides gathered at the spot and threw stones at each other, sparking off the riots.

“We are keeping a strict watch over the situation, though we can’t afford to be lax even for a single moment,” said Thane police commissioner M. Shangari.

“We are in a state of extra caution now,” added joint commissioner Ambalal Verma. Though the situation is “tense but under control”, the government has rushed three platoons of the State Reserve Police Force to the affected areas. Security forces have fanned out to the “sensitive” areas of Bhivandi, Kalyan and Mumbra.

In Shendurjana, policemen suffered injuries after fights broke out between two communities during an idol immersion procession. More than 100 people have been arrested.

The clash here comes barely 10 days after nine persons were killed and more than 70 injured in Solapur when a bandh called by Muslim organisations to protest American priest Jerry Falwel’s remarks against Prophet Mohammad turned into a communal face-off. “It’s a disturbing trend that has to be addressed. It is a powder keg we are sitting on,” said a senior bureaucrat in the home ministry.

Worried state officials said they were being forced to remain on a state of preparedness “as never before”.

Officials concede that the “mood” — a euphemism for Hindu right-wing activism —has been irreversibly bolstered post Godhra. “The attack on the Swaminarayan temple has not helped matters at all, with even the Shiv Sena trying to cash in on it,” the bureaucrat added.

The fresh flare-up comes after Shiv Sena boss Bal Thackeray’s Dussehra speech where he called for forming Hindu suicide squads to tackle Islamic militancy.

His call found immediate echo when VHP senior leader Praveen Togadia announced in Gujarat that “more than 200 Hindu youths have already enlisted themselves in the suicide squads”.

Groups of people owing allegiance to various organisations have also been targeting Christian priests in Mumbai, beating them up on two occasions.

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