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regular-article-logo Thursday, 18 July 2024

Bihar Ram Navami violence planned on WhatsApp, say cops

Vishwa Hindu Parishad says the Bihar government headed by Nitish Kumar is implicating Bajrang Dal members

Dev Raj Patna Published 11.04.23, 05:00 AM
Representational image.

Representational image. File Photo

Several members of a 454-strong WhatsApp group that is allegedly operated by Bajrang Dal leaders helped incite and fan communal violence in Biharsharif town following the Ram Navami processions in end-March, police sources said.

This was done by circulating fake news, incendiary and abusive messages, and provocative photos and videos that spilled over to several other groups and social media platforms in the cyber frenzy that accompanied the violence, they added.

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Altogether 16 people from the WhatsApp group have been named as accused in an FIR registered at the Economic Offences Unit (EOU) police station in Patna on Saturday.

Five of them — Manish Kumar, Tushar Kumar Tanti, Dharmendra Mehta, Bhupendra Singh Rana and Niranjan Pandey — have been arrested while two others have surrendered in court. A manhunt is on for the remaining nine suspects.

Asked for a response, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang’s parent organisaton, said the Bihar government headed by Nitish Kumar was implicating Bajrang members.

“We met the governor and submitted a memorandum to him that the state government was conducting a one-sided probe," VHP national president R.N. Singh told this newspaper on Monday night.

"We have sought a high-level probe or a probe by the NIA (National Investigation Agency),” Singh added.

Singh said it was “possible that they (the Bajrang members) became excited after stones were thrown” at a procession. “If you throw stones, they are young blood and they will not take it as flowers. They will throw it back,” he added.

Kundan Kumar, the Bajrang Dal’s convener for Nalanda district where Biharsharif is located, was arrested on Saturday in connection with another FIR for alleged incitement and participation in the Biharsharif riots. He too was an active member of the WhatsApp group, and his name would be added to the EOU case, sources said.

A young man was shot dead in the Biharsharif rioting, and shops, houses and educational and religious establishments belonging to both communities were looted and vandalised.

Sources in the EOU, which also specialises in solving cyber crime, said investigations had established that the WhatsApp group was hyperactive during the March 30-31 violence in Biharsharif.

The EOU had begun monitoring cyberspace on its own after seeing inflammatory messages being spread amid the violence. The state government later officially assigned it to investigate whether there was a conspiracy behind the Ram Navami clashes in Biharsharif and Sasaram (Rohtas district).

“Although investigations are still on, we can give an example of how the group worked,” an EOU officer told The Telegraph on the condition of anonymity.

“On one occasion, (the group) started circulating messages that violence had resumed after the Friday prayers (on March 31) in Biharsharif and five Hindus had been killed. It was fake news, but fanned the tensions.”

He added: “Apart from Kundan Kumar, two men named Krishan Kumar and Mahadev were the ringleaders. Mahadev had been arrested in 2021 in connection with a communal incident in Biharsharif. He later came out on bail. He is currently in hiding.”

Krishan Kumar has surrendered before a court.

Three deputy superintendents of police and eight sub-inspectors from the cyber wing of the EOU are working to crack the conspiracy angle.

“The leads we are getting indicate that this WhatsApp group was not functioning as a standalone group. It was possibly in touch with similar groups,” an investigator said.

“The phone numbers of many of the group members were traced to the violence-hit areas. We are investigating this aspect too. There is also a possibility that the main perpetrators were not on the scene and were orchestrating things from somewhere else.”

The FIR registered by the EOU invokes Indian Penal Code sections 153 (riot provocation), 153A (promoting religious enmity and acts prejudicial to harmony), 297 (trespassing on burial places to insult feelings or religion), 505 (public mischief), 120B (criminal conspiracy), and the IT Act’s Section 66F (cyber terrorism).

“We have recovered five mobile devices, which are being analysed for further leads. These were used to upload content,” EOU additional director-general Naiyyar Hasnain Khan told this newspaper.

Biharsharif was the capital of the Pala dynasty around the 10th century. The town was later home to several Sufi saints.

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