Bhopal, Aug. 6: Taking a leaf out of Sunderlal Patwa’s book, Digvijay Singh today sought to recover Rs 68 lakh from 161 residents of Dhar district for violently targeting members of a particular community.
The majority community members — all men — have been booked for criminal conduct in cases registered at Badnawar, Tirla, Tanda and Nalchha police stations. They had indulged in violence in a dispute over Bhojshala on February 19. Four persons were killed when riots broke out over the monument Muslims consider a mosque and Hindus a temple.
The BJP reacted angrily, accusing the Madhya Pradesh chief minister of resorting to “feudal and Raj era practices”. Senior state leader Uma Bharti and leader of the Opposition Babulal Gaur said the move would further vitiate the communal atmosphere.
The Bharti camp alleged that Digvijay was purposely slapping the fine to heighten social tension and divert focus from issues like lack of development in the state. With Assembly elections due later this year, the community fine is set to emerge as a major poll plank.
But Digvijay remained unfazed, saying he was merely acting on a law passed by former BJP chief minister Sunderlal Patwa in 1990. Section 21 of the Madhya Pradesh Rajya Suraksha Adhiniyam, 1990, justifies imposition of collective fine from accused persons, he said.
The chief minister — who had slapped a similar fine on OBCs in Rajgarh for burning crops on land allotted to Dalits — said he believed community fine would act as a deterrent for people who indulged in such “dastardly” acts.
Speaking to The Telegraph, he said: “In a civilised society, there should be zero tolerance for such unbecoming conduct. Who has given them (the accused) a licence to resort to violence, causing loss of lives, public and private properties'”
Digvijay said he was not bothered about the political consequences. “I may win or lose elections but certainly I will not tolerate this kind of behaviour.”
Dhar falls in the heart of politically sensitive Malwa region that elects 44 out of the 230 state legislators.
The BJP is opposed to the fine on two counts. First, it believes fines are used selectively to please a particular community. Some local leaders alleged that most of the persons booked were either BJP workers or sympathisers. Second, BJP leaders feel fines are uncalled for and against the process of natural justice as the accused have already been booked for criminal conduct.
In the Congress, too, there is a degree of nervousness. One section fears the move may lead to communal polarisation in a state where Muslims constitute just about 7 per cent of the electorate.
Digvijay’s brother Laxman Singh has already gone public against the move to fine OBCs for atrocities against Dalits in Rajgarh, the chief minister’s home district. Laxman said many of these OBCs were too poor to pay the fine.