Lucknow, May 11: An uneasy calm hangs over Meerut city a day before the last phase of polling in eastern Uttar Pradesh.
Yesterday’s skirmish in the west Uttar Pradesh city has left at least 12 people injured and dozens of shops and half a dozen vehicles destroyed in fire.
Clashes between members of two communities broke out on Saturday around 2pm over the construction of a water tank in the Tir Gran area on an allegedly disputed plot and could be controlled only by late evening.
The violence continued to grate the nerves of the Akhilesh Yadav government, which has been facing flak for its failure to control the September riots.
No fresh clashes were reported this morning and police said the situation remained “calm but tense”.
Police sources said that of the 12 injured, at least three suffered bullet injuries, and the condition of one was critical.
In Tir Gran, members of a community were building a water tank on an open land adjacent to a religious place when members of another community raised objections, claiming that the land belonged to them.
The altercation led to violence after a senior religious leader was assaulted by members of a community.
The violence later spread to the Ghanta ghar area as well as marketplaces, including the Bazar Bajaja complex.
Rioters from both the communities stormed the shopping centres, including the complex, ransacking shops and pelting shopkeepers with stones. Naveen Gupta, president of the Joint Traders Association, said that despite calling the police, the forces reached two hours late.
When the police reached, they were unnerved initially by the open show of firearms by members of both communities even though the administration had seized most of the licensed firearms from gun owners on the eve of the polls.
The troublemakers, the sources said, used petrol bombs, fired from revolvers and stabbed people with swords and daggers.
Munna Singh Chauhan, the Rashtriya Lok Dal leader in Meerut, told media persons the skirmish had exposed the administrative inefficiency of the Samajwadi government.
The BJP’s Harikant Ahluwalia , mayor of Meerut, alleged the skirmish could have been avoided had the police acted promptly.
“The dispute is old,” local residents told the police, adding that “claims and counterclaims were continuing over the land at Tir Gran since 1952”.
The police said a court had ordered the administration to maintain status quo but the old wounds resurfaced after members of a community began constructing the water tank.
Since morning, 1,200 policemen — 600 from Meerut and nearby districts and 600 central forces — have been deployed to maintain law and order, Meerut superintendent of police Om Prakash Singh said.
Additional director-general of police (law and order) Mukul Goel told reporters in Lucknow the situation was tense but under control.
The riot may not directly impact the last phase of polling scheduled in eastern Uttar Pradesh tomorrow, but the administration is not taking any chances.
Flag marches were being conducted at all the sensitive districts, the police said, adding that special security arrangements had been made in Varanasi and Azamgarh where high-profile leaders like Narendra Modi (Varanasi) and Mulayam Singh Yadav (Azamgarh) are contesting.
For tomorrow, 1.42 lakh state police personnel and home guards, besides 90 companies of the Provincial Armed Constabulary and around 350 companies of central paramilitary forces would be deployed to ensure smooth polling.
The BJP’s office in Varanasi was today raided by a flying squad of the Election Commission, helped by state police, and campaign material was seized. A flying squad official said they had information the party was planning to distribute T-shirts, badges and pamphlets although the campaign period was over.
The BJP denied the allegation and repeated the charge of bias against the authorities in Varanasi, where Narendra Modi is contesting.
In Delhi, the poll panel later said the raid was conducted following a complaint. But after finding no irregularity, the commission had directed release of the material.