The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mayhem mars Bhojpur music for Laloo

Patna, Oct. 6: Dussehra was Laloo Prasad Yadav’s night out, and he was happily gorging on Bhojpuri folk songs till his mobile rang. Brow creased, he hastily disappeared into a corner of Gandhi Maidan, away from the music and masti, and furiously barked out orders.

There was no way Laloo Prasad would allow a riot to break out in his Bihar. Mischief mongers could clash outside a puja pandal, set it ablaze and a stampede could ensue, but Bihar ka raja just wouldn’t let a mini-Gujarat happen in his backyard.

That was exactly what he managed last night with some expert backseat driving. Around 11.30, he got news that revelry had given way to rioting of sorts at a pandal in the Gopalichowk locality of Bhojpur district and that in a domino effect, several shops and rickshaws had been set ablaze by furious mobs.

Wielding his mobile like a soldier would a gun, Laloo Prasad immediately ordered the district administration to send in as many security personnel as were required to control the mob. In minutes, the Rapid Action Force, the Bihar Military Police and the Central Reserve Police Force were raced to the affected areas and a potential flare-up was quelled.

According to district magistrate Sanjay Kumar, all had been well last night till a rumour that some miscreants had defiled the deity in a nearby pandal began to float around Gopalichowk. Before the administration got wind of the trouble, rival communities were at each other’s neck.

“The rumours resulted in a scuffle and clashes among people of rival communities and the puja pandal in Gopalichowk was set on fire,” Kumar said. But the puja committee members soon managed to douse the blaze with help from local residents, and little damage was done.

A half-hour later — around 11 pm — a second round of rumours began blowing in the wind. This time, the grapevine said that not only the deity, an entire pandal had been vandalised. In reflex action, an incensed mob turned on a row of shops owned by a rival community a little way off and set them on fire. About 50 shops and nearly 100 rickshaws parked between Gopalichowk and Subzi Gola were burnt down.

By the time the police arrived, both tempers and the blaze were at white heat. There was some stampeding as well, in which two persons were hurt. A sub-inspector was injured in stone pelting. Soon after, the military police, the RAF and the CRPF showed up, and matters were reined in.

Back in Gandhi Maidan, Laloo Prasad was cautious. He put off queries from anxious reporters, saying: “Nothing much has happened.” This morning, however, he left for Ara, the Bhojpur district headquarters.

At the trouble spot, Laloo Prasad could be seen dealing a healing touch. He patiently heard out a group of weeping men at Shivganj More demanding the arrest of the policemen who had opened fire and promised to take action.

Next, he visited the community settlements and offered damages to people who had lost their shops or rickshaws in the fire.

He refrained from mouthing communal rhetoric and reprimanded the police for excesses. He stayed on in Ara till the two clash victims — one died at Patna Medical College and Hospital today — were cremated.

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