A protester puts a flag atop a church at Muniguda in Orissas Phulbani district on Tuesday. (AP)
Bhubaneswar/Sambalpur, Aug. 26: Scarred Orissa remained on edge a day after a Christian woman was burnt alive by suspected VHP activists, with at least four persons killed in the southern district of Kandhamal.
The government denied reports that police had fired on rioters from the Sangh parivar, claiming that the deaths occurred during group clashes.
I would like to clarify that there has been no police firing, chief minister Naveen Patnaik told the Assembly tonight. The four had died in clashes and not in firing as claimed by Orissa Congress chief Jaydev Jena, he said.
Four bodies were recovered from the site of violence, he added. No one was willing to reveal their identities.
Patnaiks Biju Janata Dal is in alliance with the BJP, a part of the Sangh parivar, and would be loath to admit its police had fired on VHP protesters.
At least seven persons have died in communal violence since Sunday after news spread of the killing of a senior VHP leader and four others in an ashram in Kandhamal the previous night.
The police had claimed VHP leader Swami Laxmananda Saraswati and his associates were gunned down by Maoists. But the Sangh outfit said they were murdered at the behest of the Church, with which it has shared a strained relationship that worsened after Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two young sons were burnt alive in 1999.
During a bandh it had called yesterday, the VHP set on fire a missionary school hostel in Bargarh district in western Orissa, charring to death its caretaker Rajani Majhi.
Rajani, 22, also studied at Padmapur College. The girl had a knack for studies, said Padmapur sub-collector Prabhat Kumar Bhoi.
Her family was so poor that a village neighbour, Buchu Majhi, had adopted her as his daughter. Buchu and the girls father, Kishore Mahakud, reached the village today to claim her body, where they were given Rs 10,000 from the Red Cross fund.
Bargarh superintendent of police Ajay Kumar Biswal said yesterdays attack on the hostel was neither pre-planned nor intentional. Rather, he said, it was the result of provocation resulting from the death of the swami.
The attack was carried out on the spur of the moment by the united power of angry bandh supporters, he said.
Three persons have been arrested for the attack, Biswal added, but refused to say who they were. Sources said the reluctance of officials to implicate the Sangh stems from the growing unease in the relationship between the BJD and the BJP.
The BJP, which is the smaller partner in the coalition, is under mounting pressure from the Sangh to withdraw support to the BJD following the murder of Laxmananda.
Yesterday, BJP legislators had blamed the administration on the floor of the House for the killings and threatened to stall Assembly proceedings till the culprits were arrested.
Officially, the BJP put up a united front with deputy leader in the House Manmohan Samal saying the party would fully support the government. We are satisfied with the action taken by the government, he said.
But many MLAs fear the partys base is being eroded following the soft stance taken by the high command.