Lucknow, Sept. 8: The army has been called in to contain the Muzaffarnagar communal clashes as at least eight more persons died today, taking the toll to 21 in the worst flare-up in the Akhilesh Yadav government’s 18 months in power.
Shoot-on-sight orders were issued in the worst-affected areas as intense rumour-mongering added to the tension. Curfew was imposed last night after several persons, including a TV journalist and a police photographer caught in the violence, died.
“Thirteen persons were killed on Saturday and eight till 5pm (Sunday),” Muzaffarnagar collector Kaushal Raj Sharma said this evening. Yesterday’s toll was initially put at six, the revision suggesting the violence was worse than thought.
The Union home ministry has sought a report on the clashes, state government sources said today, as Opposition parties slammed the Akhilesh government. Some of them alleged the clashes were engineered to polarise voters ahead of next year’s general elections.
The incident comes days after the Centre said more communal clashes had occurred so far this year than in all of 2012.
The assessment was made by Union home minister Sushil Shinde at a meeting with state chief Secretaries and police chiefs on Friday.
Shinde spoke to Akhilesh last night and discussed the situation. The chief minister today appealed for calm and warned people against rumours.
But Opposition parties pointed out that over 25 such flare-ups have rocked the state since the Akhilesh-led Samajwadi government came to power in March last year.
Senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh said “even the BSP was better”. Rashtrtiya Lok Dal chief and Union civil aviation minister Ajit Singh, who hails from the area, demanded President’s rule and alleged lack of action over the earlier incidents.
Mayawati’s BSP also called for central rule.
Ashish Gupta, inspector-general of the special task force in Lucknow, said this evening that 52 people had been arrested so far.
Home secretary Kamal Saxena said the army was called in at the request of
the district authorities. Officials said around 800 soldiers were on the ground alongside 28 companies of central forces (around 2,800 personnel).
Officials said at least 46 people were injured.
A separate ward has been opened at the Muzaffarnagar District Hospital for those wounded in the clashes, superintendent Ashoke Agarwal said.
The trouble began yesterday afternoon when stones were hurled on villagers of one community who were on way to attend a meeting to protest arrests of some of their members late last month.
The arrests had been made over an eve-teasing incident that had snowballed into violence, leading to the deaths of two persons.
A fake Internet video, purportedly showing two persons being killed, fuelled the tension yesterday.
The authorities had the video blocked but CDs of it soon began floating around.