Aug. 11: Aug. 11: When UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde visit Kokrajhar on Monday, they will have the dual task of ensuring calm in the riot-torn areas of Assam and sending a message to instil confidence elsewhere in India.
Two youths were killed and more than 64 people injured in Mumbai today when a demonstration organised by a group of Muslim organisations, led by the right wing Raza Academy, at Azad Maidan to protest violence against Muslims in Assam and Myanmar turned violent.
Hundreds turned up for the protest. The mob, which kept swelling, went berserk and attacked policemen and the media. They torched police and anti-riot vehicles, OB vans of news channels parked outside Azad Maidan and other government and private vehicles.
The exact trigger for the violence was not clear but Mumbai police commissioner Arup Patnaik said, “Some elements within the crowd circulated photographs of the killings in Assam. Apparently this must have triggered some reaction among the crowds. They went out of the organisers’ control and started heckling policemen and the media.” The police then opened fire and used baton to disperse the mob.
At least 56 of the 64 injured, admitted to three hospitals, were police personnel with head and upper body injuries. Three of the eight civilians admitted had bullet wounds. The two dead were identified as Altaf Shaikh, 18, Mohammed Umar, 22. Doctors refused to say whether they died in police firing.
Raza Academy, however, distanced itself from the violence. “While were protesting, some people got aggressive and started behaving violently. We never believe in or encourage violence. We strongly condemn it,” said Sayyed Noori, general secretary of the Academy.
A senior Karnataka police official said there were minor protests in Mangalore this week. A source in the home ministry said calls were reportedly made to a Kerala-based organisation from Assam but the organisation exercised restraint.
In Guwahati, chief minister Tarun Gogoi expressed concern over reported attacks on/threats to students outside the state in retaliation to the attacks on Muslims in BTAD. “We have also heard about a few incidents. We have taken up the matter with the respective states. It is very unfortunate. Why should innocent students be victimized?”
Sources in the chief minister’s office said Dispur had requested the Centre to alert other states. “I talked with the police commissioner of Pune who said two cases had been registered against local students of Pune College. We have also taken up the issue with the chief secretary of Maharashtra. Nowhere were students directly attacked. Isolated incidents have been contained. Assam Bhawan has been given security,” a senior official told The Telegraph.
In Delhi, a senior government official said, “At a time when hundreds of Hindus are fleeing Pakistan, a communal colour can be given to the situation by vested interests. We are alert to the situation.”
The home ministry has sent out alert advisories to all states, particularly Maharashtra. It said additional forces could be sent there if the state government needed.
In a late night news conference, Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said the crime branch had been asked to take over the probe into the Mumbai violence and the Centre had been requested for additional force. A red alert has been sounded in the state.
AIUDF chief Badruddin Ajmal, who has business interests in Mumbai and is also the chairman of Markazul Ma’arif Education and Research Centre, Mumbai, condemned the violence in the metropolis and said he had nothing to do with the Muslim organisations involved in the protest. “We had planned a silent protest rally involving the Jamiat Ulema and Aman Committee tomorrow to highlight the plight of the affected in the Assam riots at the same venue but cancelled it when we came to know about today’s protest,” he told The Telegraph from Delhi.
“I am going to Kokrajhar tomorrow since UPA president Sonia Gandhi is visiting the affected area on Monday. We will meet her and submit a memorandum about the plight of Muslims in BTAD,” the Dhubri MP, who is also the president of the Assam State Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, said.
“I wish Badruddin bhai good luck. He wants me toppled with a few new friends. He has been opposing me for so many years now. At least I will get some peace,” Gogoi said at a news conference in Guwahati this afternoon when asked about his detractors’ efforts to unseat him in the wake of the riots, giving a glimpse of the rivalry between the two leaders. The AIUDF is the main Opposition party in Assam, but a UPA partner in Delhi.
Ajmal also accused the BJP of giving the riots a communal colour. “They say these are Bangladeshis. But what about the earlier riots in the Bodo belt? Only two of these involved Muslims and Bodos. The other riots involved non-Bodos such as Adivasis, Koch-Rajbonshis, Bengali Hindus, Rabhas, Saronias, Madahis, Nepalis and other non-Bodos. The genesis of the current violence is the failed Bodo Accord of 1993, when the then home minister Rajesh Pilot declared that Bodo statehood would remain an impossible dream since Bodos were in a minority in their proclaimed land. Pilot’s message percolated through the collective Bodo psyche and there has since been a consistent bid to drive away all non-Bodo communities from the BTAD,” he said.
The situation in the BTAD is said to be under control with no fresh incidents of violence reported. Sonia and Shinde will visit the relief camps of both communities, sources in the home ministry said.
Shinde’s visit to Assam will be significant in the wake of his responses in Parliament that drew flak from the Opposition. The BJP has raised the bogey of illegal Bangladeshi migration as the root cause of the problem while the Congress wants to show that the Assam violence is a law and order problem that can be resolved locally.
Shinde, however, may be forced to look beyond BTAD for communal overtones. In Goalpara district, adjacent to the riot-torn Kokrajhar, the communities are allegedly sitting on a powder keg because of an increasing tension between the indigenous Rabhas and Garos. While the Rabhas have been demanding an autonomous council, Garos and Muslims have allied against the concept. Tension, with Muslim populations involved, has also been reported from Meghalaya and other districts of Assam.