The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Communal thorn in Cong ‘model state’

Bhopal, Jan. 15: All is not well in Sonia Gandhi’s “model state” — Madhya Pradesh.

The battle-ready Congress chief may have signalled Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh’s exit and “disciplined” Rajasthan’s Ashok Gehlot, but in Digvijay Singh’s domain, the communal situation is proving to be a worry. Things are not smooth either in the sphere of governance and empowerment of Dalits and weaker sections.

The communal flare-up in Ganjbasoda, a town in Vidisha district, yesterday was not an isolated incident. In the past fortnight, there have been sporadic bursts of communal violence in several districts where even simple property disputes between Hindus and Muslims have taken a political colour.

The chief minister’s bid to take on belligerent Hindutva forces is proving to be a twin-edged sword. While Singh may have succeeded in glossing over the acute shortage of power, water and motorable roads, his agenda of keeping the BJP and the Sangh parivar engaged on emotive issues could boomerang.

In Ganjbasoda, a beleaguered police force has made 30 arrests, including Saleem, said to be responsible for cow slaughter. Police officials confirmed that a cow, a slaughtered calf and a dozen cow hides were recovered from Saleem’s house.

There was no fresh violence but the curfew in the town remained in force through the day, except for a two-hour relaxation. Madhya Pradesh director-general of police Dinesh Gujran has sounded a statewide alert even as a sense of unease persists among minorities in Bhopal, Indore and elsewhere in the state.

The Ganjbasoda incident has come barely a fortnight after Singh “cautioned” voters in the state that the BJP was bent upon repeating a Godhra-like incident. But then, providing security should be his top priority.

A closer look at yesterday’s incident reveals that the local administration had full knowledge of allegations of cow slaughter but failed to act upon complaints formally lodged with the district collector. More glaring was the fact that for a few hours, there was a complete free for all till more forces reached from Bhopal and Vidisha. The 95-km road from Bhopal to Ganjbasoda via Vidisha is so bad that it took the police almost four hours to reach the spot.

The chief minister’s camp is unfazed by yesterday’s incident and claims that desperate elements are raising the communal bogey to nullify the Singh regime’s “good work”. They said even the BJP was rattled by Singh’s Rs 250-crore sop to Dalits and tribals announced two days ago.

Some of the key features of the bonanza include an unprecedented directive to all ministries and departments to purchase 30 per cent of their requirement from Dalit and tribal entrepreneurs. The other big sops are lavish disbursement of land for landless Dalits and tribals and allotment of 10,000 shops in urban areas for these sections.

Yet, despite Singh’s efforts to project himself as a champion of the backwards, atrocities against the weaker sections are on the rise in the state. There is hardly a day when reports of a Dalit woman being raped or paraded naked have not come in from some part of the state.

The government’s “sensitivity” about the matter came through at a Cabinet meeting held on Monday. Some of Singh’s colleagues demanded a check on the number of persons being caught for committing atrocities on backwards. Some said the government should not “blow up” money for Dalits as it would force budgetary cuts on other welfare schemes.

About the communal situation, the chief minister’s office said all district collectors and police officials have been told that they would be held responsible for any incident of violence. “The chief minister went to Dhar district to hold an all-party peace meeting. The minister in charge of Vidisha was among the first to reach Ganjbasoda where no human life was lost,” a senior official in the chief minister’s office said.

But the big question remained unanswered: whether these measures are enough to prevent a major flare-up'

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