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Akhilesh foils ‘mischief-makers’
- muzaffarnagar suspect halted in tracks, BJP cadres run riot

Lucknow, July 4: Sangeet Som, a BJP legislator from Muzaffarnagar accused in last year’s riots, and three party MPs were today detained to foil a Moradabad mahapanchayat (mega convention) against restrictions on a shrine’s use of loudspeakers while another community was holding prayers.

The Akhilesh Yadav government’s crackdown came amid fears that such a mahapanchayat could stoke passions like a similar gathering last year in Muzaffarnagar. Alleged inflammatory speeches by Som and others at that meeting were blamed for the riots that killed more than 60 people and left 40,000 homeless.

The Akhilesh-led Samajwadi government, which had faced allegations of not acting fast enough then, wants to be seen moving swiftly now to nip trouble.

But the detentions sparked a backlash with the leaders’ supporters fighting police and hurling stones, one of which hit Moradabad DM Shree Chandrakant and left him injured.

Tension had been rising since yesterday when the authorities seized the sound system from the shrine after warnings not to use the loudspeaker during the other community’s prayers went unheeded.

Today, Som and MPs Kunwar Singh Tanwar, Satyapal Saini and Nepal Singh — who represent neighbouring Amroha, Sambhal and Rampur — were stopped around 11.30am while on way to Kanth, the area where the shrine is located.

The leaders were taken to the local police station and let off after an hour and a half. But by then, word about their detentions had spread. A crowd of around 1,000 people tried to block railway tracks at Kanth. When the police arrived to lift the blockade, they were greeted with stones. Several policemen, including an inspector, were injured. The cops fought back with batons and tear gas.

Som said the detentions were unjustified. “We were going to protest against the police (for taking away the shrine’s sound system). We are law-abiding citizens. We gave ourselves up and were detained,” the MLA added as the mahapanchayat plan was thwarted.

A similar convention was called last year in Muzaffarnagar, around 150km away, where the riots erupted soon after. The issue then was the arrest of some of the BJP’s Jat leaders for a murder.

Som was among key BJP leaders then arrested and released on bail. Other prominent names included Sanjeev Balyan, who was later elected Muzaffarnagar MP and is now minister of state for agriculture in the Narendra Modi government.

In the Assembly today, BSP and Congress leaders spoke of a “fresh plot to spark communal trouble” and backed the detentions.

“The BJP is out to create fresh trouble now. My party will back the state government in all its efforts to prevent outbreak of violence,” BSP leader S.P. Maurya said in a rare instance of his party’s support for a government led by its arch-rival.

Pradeep Mathur, the Congress’s leader in the House, accused the BJP of “spreading anarchy in the state to sustain its communal politics”.

In Delhi, CPM leader Sitaram Yechury stressed the need to “handle the issue with sensitivity so that the Muzaffarnagar riots are not repeated in Moradabad”.

But the BJP central leadership alleged bias. “The Uttar Pradesh government does not arrest criminals roaming freely but those who hold meetings peacefully,” senior leader Shahnawaz Hussain said.