Ranchi, Sept. 3: A mammoth JVM protest rally of around 10,000 participants ran amok just 1.5km away from the Assembly this afternoon, spurring the police to knee-jerk mob control measures like water cannons and tear gas following which one bystander died and at least 17 party workers were injured.
JVM chief Babulal Marandi and his deputy Pradeep Yadav, along with nearly 400 workers, were arrested, while chief minister Arjun Munda has ordered a judicial probe into the incident.
Marandi’s reputation as a politician of some stature suffered some damage as the peaceful march protesting against “displaced populations” with an eye on the huge grassroots vote-bank turned unruly largely due to his supporters’ impatience.
The rally started around 12.30pm from Harmu with the aim of reaching Project Building via Assembly to “mount pressure on the state” and force its attention on forcible evictions. Though the government anticipated trouble — more due to the size of the rally than anything else — and deployed around 150 personnel on the routes, no one could have foreseen how quickly an impatient Marandi and his supporters and an overzealous police force could morph a march into a mob.
Around 1.40pm, after wending its way for 3.5km, the rally reached a barricade near Satellite Colony before Delhi Public School — another had been put up near Birsa Chowk on Birsa Munda Raj Marg — and attempted to break it to get ahead.
Then, several events occurred in quick succession.
As Marandi tried to break through the barricade, police personnel politely told him he was to be arrested. He accepted, but his followers, who tried to outdo their leader perhaps to impress him or evade arrest, started breaking the barricades and pushing their way.
The police pressed a water cannon into action. As the stampede swelled, Bolo Oraon, a fourth grade PWD employee and a resident of Dibdih SP Colony, was crushed under the wheels of the water cannon.
More bedlam followed as police fired teargas shells and lathicharged the crowd, some among which retaliated with pelting stones. Many protesters ran towards the Ranchi-Hatia railway lines and pelted stones.
At the ringside of the events, a Tata Motors showroom became the centre of some drama. One Laxmi Devi of Barkagaon started screaming that the auto showroom guards had pushed her aside when she went there for refuge and that they had locked up “five to seven” women protesters. Hearing her, the mob started pelting stones at the showroom. The police tried to pacify the crowd and warned Laxmi Devi that she would be booked for “inciting tension by spreading rumours and canards”.
Finally, six women came out, but refused to comment anything, only saying no one had ill-treated them.
The tension ebbed around 4pm. But JVM workers criticised the police crackdown. “A man died when the water cannon of the state police ran over him,” said Farhana Khatoon, a JVM worker from Seraikela-Kharsawan.
Some inflated numbers. “One person died and three dozen people were injured,” said Braj Kishore Jaiswal, treasurer of JVM.
The exact number of injured could not be ascertained as they were admitted to various hospitals and nursing homes. The Telegraph visited two main government hospitals and found 17 persons undergoing treatment.
The seven admitted at Sadar Hospital included JVM district president Rajeev Ranjan Mishra, as well as workers Nand Kishore Singh, Sajid Omar, Mantosh Singh, Dilip Gupta, Moin Ansari and Jhini Hembrom. Except Jhini, a resident of Santhal Pargana, all were from Ranchi district.
Those undergoing treatment at Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) included Nepal Turi, Chobha, Yadav, Sonu Kumar Gupta, Anil Prasad, Alok Kumar Chourasia, Ramlav Prasad, Raja Gupta, Dashrath Thakur, Kishun Murmu and Mahendra Turi. The last three were at the neuro-surgery ward while the rest were at the central emergency ward.
Superintendent of police (city) Vipul Shukla said it was unfortunate. “The mob broke the barricade and tried to advance to the Assembly despite our warning, so we had to resort to lathicharge. I rescued the man who came under the water cannon and put him in an auto. But he succumbed to his injuries,” he said.
Marandi, who advised his workers to stay disciplined too late in the day, blamed the state government. “The Arjun Munda government is playing into the hands of industrialists, evident from the fact that land encroached upon by Abhijeet Group in Seraikela-Kharsawan district have been regularised. But, poor people were doomed to face police bullets and batons,” he thundered.
Trying to rise above the day’s violence, he said: “Our fight is not against the police. They have only done what the Arjun Munda government asked them to do. They could easily have arrested us if it was wanted to prevent us from reaching the Secretariat. But, these won’t deter us. This battle will go on till every displaced gets justice. Over 25 lakh families have been displaced.”