|Children cry at the funeral of their mother, who died in the stampede. (Reuters)
Lucknow, April 13: The BJP today scrambled to limit the damage from yesterday’s sari stampede by deciding to scale down the planned celebrations when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee files his nomination on Thursday.
But disclosures that the district administration sat for four days on a petition against the sari distribution function and an Opposition uproar kept the issue on the boil.
In Mumbai, chief election commissioner T.S. Krishnamurthy warned of “stern action” if the report the poll panel has sought from the Uttar Pradesh government indicates violation of the model code of conduct. A poll panel team today visited Chandrashekhar Azad Park in the Mahanagar police station area, spoke to residents and collected video clippings of the stampede.
It is learnt that some residents had petitioned the Election Commission on April 8, seeking a ban on the function to celebrate BJP leader Lalji Tandon’s birthday.
The petitioners — led by Aslam Khan and Mohammad Mokim — had complained that the function would violate the model code. Besides, prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code were in force in Mahanagar.
The poll commission office had forwarded the petition to district magistrate Aradhana Shukla on April 8. The magistrate’s office apparently sat on the petition till yesterday afternoon, when local police were informed about it. By then, 25 poor women and a three-year-old boy had died in the rush in the overcrowded park.
Shukla said the petition was just a complaint and the local police were asked to look into it. “The administration was unaware of any such programme going to take place in the park,” she said.
Lucknow SSP R. Verma had yesterday said the organisers neither took permission for the programme nor did they inform Mahanagar police station. But with big newspaper insertions on the function and hundreds of people streaming in since morning, there was no way the police could not have known.
The administration launched a damage-control exercise by placing the officer in charge of Mahanagar police station, R.. Singh, under suspension. “The officer in charge failed to inform the SSP about the incident even as thousands were pouring into the park,” Verma said.
But the Congress said Singh was “an easy scapegoat”. Led by AICC general secretary Mohsina Kidwai, party leaders demanded a judicial probe and jail for Tandon. “We all wish Lalji Tandon a long life on his 70th birthday but he should not be outside jail for the way he took liberties with the law,” Kidwai said.
In Delhi, Congress spokesman Kapil Sibal said Tandon should be “made an accused and prosecuted for committing a rash and negligent act”.
Lucknow witnessed spasms of protests. About two hundred women of the CPM-affiliated Janwadi Mahila Manch assembled on Bidhansabha Road and demonstrated. They burnt an effigy of Tandon.
The BJP blamed the Congress for taking politics to the gutter level. It disowned the Nagrick Seva Samity, the organisation that arranged the function.