|Closed shops on a deserted street in Kanth near Moradabad on Saturday. (PTI)
July 5: A senior police officer today accused BJP leaders of trying to “polarise voters for electoral gain” as he spoke to the media on mob violence in Moradabad district yesterday after the police foiled a gathering.
“BJP leaders led by Moradabad MP Kunwar Sarvesh Singh had called the mahapanchayat (mega convention) in front of Kanth police station to polarise voters at neighbouring Thakurdwara Assembly seat where a by-election is scheduled this month,” Moradabad senior superintendent of police Dharam Veer told a news conference.
The BJP quickly accused the police of “playing politics”.
A retired IPS officer, S.R. Darapuri, told The Telegraph that police officers are not allowed to make political statements with reference to any party or lawmaker and must restrict their comments only to the law-and-order situation.
The mahapanchayat had been called against the police’s restrictions on the use of loudspeakers at a shrine while members of another community held prayers at Kanth’s Akbarpur Chedri village. There had been fears the convention could stoke communal passions.
Allegedly inflammatory speeches by BJP leaders at a similar gathering in Muzaffarnagar last year have been blamed for riots that killed more than 60 people and left 40,000 homeless. So, the police thwarted the convention by detaining several BJP lawmakers on their way to the site, among them an MLA accused of inciting the Muzaffarnagar riots.
The police action triggered a clash with BJP supporters, which led to 62 arrests, injuries to 20 policemen and damage to railway tracks.
Senior superintendent Veer said MP Sarvesh Singh, who had vacated the Thakurdwara Assembly seat after winning the general election, “sought to polarise the communities for electoral gain” ahead of the by-election.
He said the tension over the use of loudspeakers could have been solved easily had the BJP not brought politics into it.
The officer said the use of loudspeakers was earlier confined to big religious festivals and other communities never objected to that. However, “a new loudspeaker was gifted by the BJP MP in June and suddenly it was being used to air devotional songs”, Veer said.
“Objections came from the other community on the eve of (a religious occasion). The police removed the loudspeaker, and this provoked the BJP leaders’ politics of polarisation,” the officer added.
Sarvesh denied the allegation and accused the police of being “highhanded towards the majority community”. A police raid and “forcible removal of the loudspeaker angered local people who decided to hold a mahapanchayat,” he claimed.
“The police are trying to frame me. We don’t need polarisation to win the by-election in an Assembly that had elected my father and then me. The police are playing narrow party politics and behaving in a partisan manner.”
Darapuri, a former inspector-general in Uttar Pradesh, said the service rules of 1968 did not allow a police officer “to make a statement on the prevailing political situation or about a political party’s activities in connection with any incident”.
“Statements like the one made today by the senior superintendent of police, Moradabad, are a big no-no, whatever the truth may be,” he said.
He said officers are prohibited from making any direct reference to an elected representative except when he is an accused in a case, “and even then they are not expected to mention his political affiliation”. No case has so far been lodged against Sarvesh.
Kanth, 32km from Moradabad town, is known for a sprawling gauze-making industry. It has had a history of communal tensions.
Armed police swarmed over Kanth today. The roads were empty and markets shut, and train services through Kanth station could not resume.
Moradabad commissioner Shiv Shankar Singh said tension still prevailed in some areas.
State BJP president Laxmikant Bajpai said the party had formed a five-member team headed by MLA Suresh Khanna to probe yesterday’s police baton-charge in Kanth.
Samajwadi Party general secretary Ramgopal Yadav has demanded the use of the National Security Act against the BJP leaders “responsible for yesterday’s violence, which was deliberately engineered to provoke another riot”.