The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia’s lakh invites 10-lakh bombshell

Malegaon, Sept. 9: Sonia Gandhi has Rs 1 lakh for him. But Shafiq Ahmad wants to give her Rs 10 lakh instead.

If only her people can catch the killers because of whom his son Sajid lay dead amid torn shoes and blood-stained walls last evening, two days before he was to leave for China to be trained as a doctor.

Shafiq was one of four people who gave back the cheques pressed into their hands by Sonia, who arrived here with Union home minister Shivraj Patil at 10.45 this morning to meet blast victims’ families.

“We don’t want money; we want justice,” one of them said.

As an embarrassed Patil implored them to accept the compensation and Sonia looked on without speaking, Shafiq turned to the Congress president.

“You had promised a civil hospital here but it never came up.” After a pause, he added: “If the administration arrests the culprits in 24 hours, I will give you Rs 10 lakh.”

On the streets, Ilias Mustaq Ahmad was bristling for another reason. “Five lakh rupees for (train blast victims’ families in) Mumbai and only 1 lakh for us' Is it because we are Muslims' We’ll throw their money in their faces,” the powerloom worker shouted.

In Mumbai, too, the compensation from the state had been Rs 1 lakh with the railways adding another lakh and its claims tribunal considering claims of up to Rs 4 lakh.

But anger and the feeling of being let down was everywhere in Malegaon today, at the circuit house from where the politicians broadcast their sympathy and appealed for calm, on the streets and at victims’ homes. The police were the chief target.

Corporator Bismillah Abdul Aziz and Hamidia Masjid imam Abdul Bari said they had discussed terrorism at a meeting called by deputy commissioner Anil Kumbhare.

“We had a meeting three days ago. I had submitted a written document saying something dangerous was in the offing. I warned them about the many fakirs who come to Malegaon during this time from Aurangabad and Dhule. Yet nothing was done to provide security,” Bari said.

The streets seethed at the lack of police deployment.

“The police knew that thousands would gather at the Kabrastan on Friday, why didn’t they have even one policeman on duty'” asked Sheikh Jamim. “The police came after almost one-and-a-half hours; we carried the injured in our bare arms. Most of them didn’t survive because of lack of medical care.”

“Why does this happen whenever we have a festival' How come nothing happened during the Ganapati festival' Even the smaller pandals had tight security and frisking while here, there wasn’t even one policeman,” alleged Mohammad Ramzan.

The administration put up a weak defence. Patil said: “We had a similar bandobast for Shab-e-Barat as well, but since the festivities start late in the evening, we had arranged it from 5 pm.”

“There were two police vans patrolling the area,” added additional superintendent R.S. Tadvi, “and there were two officers on duty”.

The police have, at least, been able to avert a backlash in the communally sensitive town, though residents hand the credit to the imam.

Bari criss-crossed the town in police vans last night, appealing to people to keep calm and help the police in their investigations.

“It’s only because of the imam and others like him that the community has been able to deal with this. Left to the politicians, there would have been another riot,” said Mohammad Idris.

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