The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Gujarat embers emit political smoke

Ahmedabad, Nov. 7: Communal violence erupted again in Ahmedabad last night with an argument at a roadside food stall acting as the trigger.

An uneasy calm prevailed in Jamalpur today, where the clash had injured six persons. Police had opened 16 rounds of fire and lobbed 46 teargas shells to bring the situation under control after two groups indulged in stone-throwing and arson.

But clashes broke out in three other sensitive areas in the city this evening. Eight persons were injured in stone-pelting at Gomtipur, Dandlimada and Behrampura.

Dalits and the Marwari community bore the brunt of the violence in the minority-dominated Jamalpur area. Shops and houses were ransacked and some vehicles burnt.

One person was injured in the police firing, while five were wounded in stone-throwing. Some sustained burn injuries from teargas shells. However, the injuries were not serious, hospital sources said.

The police have rounded up 15 people for interrogation on the violence that, according to local Muslim leaders, was been engineered by some vested interests with an eye on the December 12 elections. Jamalpur houses a sizeable Dalit population.

A senior Muslim leader pointed out that the incident occurred only days after Ahmad Patel, political secretary of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, visited Jhanzarka, a prominent Dalit pilgrimage centre in Gujarat from where chief minister Narendra Modi had launched the second phase of his Gaurav Yatra.

Top Dalit leaders of Jhanzarka are believed to have promised Patel that the community would not support the BJP. The violence was a reaction to the Congress leader’s meeting with the Dalit priest of Jhanzarka, he said.

Traditionally, the Dalit population of Jamalpur has rooted for Muslim candidates. The BJP had come under tremendous pressure from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which wants its nominee to contest from this minority-dominated Assembly constituency, after the election date was announced.

The VHP can make a dent only if it can create a rift between the two communities, said a minority leader, pointing out that leaders from Dalit and minority communities had been trying to bridge the communal divide. Their efforts now seem have gone waste.

The VHP’s version of last night’s violence is that Muslims attacked the Dalits and Marwari communities because they want to frighten them and compel them to leave the area so that there are no “Hindus” left in Jamalpur.

Safibhai Memon, a local minority leader, dismissed the VHP’s claim and said the situation was not as simple as the VHP wanted people to believe. There was a deliberate attempt to provoke the Muslims and the timing and place were carefully chosen to spark trouble, he said.

It could not be a mere coincidence, says Memon, that two local Dalit youths refused to pay for the food they ate right in front of Shah Ali’s Dargah, minutes before Muslims were to come out of the mosque after offering Taravi Namaz, the first namaz of Ramazan.

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