THE CITIZEN BUREAU | 25 JULY, 2016
JALANDHAR: A sleepy fairly quiet little town in Punjab Phagwara turned into a communal cauldron over the weekend, with the violence injuring seven persons. Reports suggest that tensions had been building for several days now with Shiv Sena members raising slogans against the small Muslim community, linking them with Pakistan. “Pakistan Murdabad” slogans were also written on Muslim shops leading the minority community to protest.
In what was certainly unprecedented in Punjab, the protest demonstration organised by the local Muslims was joined by the Sikhs and Dalits of the town. Carrying swords and raising Shiv Sena murdabad slogans the Sikhs came out in large numbers, along with the Dalits, to support the smaller Muslim community that had been feeling cornered for the last several days.
A video of the clash shows Shiv Sainiks and supporters on two wheelers, going through the city, making the Muslims shopkeepers down their shutters as they shouted slogans against Pakistan, and the local minorities. The Muslims responded by taking out a demonstration in protest against this “harassment” and were joined by local Sikhs and Dalits in large numbers. The Shiv Sainiks were also out demonstrating against the Muslims.
Subsequently the two demonstrations came face to face with a police force separating them. Police officers could be seen arguing with each side, but no one was willing to back off at this stage. The crowds broken through the indifferent police cordon and surged towards the other, with the tension writ large on all faces as the law and order machinery collapsed, and the politicians including the elected representatives of the area, stayed away without even trying to diffuse the situation.
In the heavy brick batting that followed, seven were injured. But the tensions have divided the town, perhaps irretrievably, on communal lines with the peace being shattered by ugly communal propaganda that inevitably resulted in protests and violence.
The state government has suspended the Phagwara DSP, and transferred the SP to Chandigarh, although the Congress party and other Opposition leaders have criticised this saying that the state government was passing the buck of its own failures to the police officers. Cases have been registered against eight identified and about 50 unidentified Shiv Sainiks, although a bandh call by the organisation to protest against this met with poor response.
Local reports suggest that the tension had been building up for several days, with Kashmir and the Amarnath yatra being raised as a point of contention by the Shiv Sainiks. The social media carried communal propaganda, with the streets reflecting the tensions with slogans and anti-Muslim graffiti. The videos show the Muslims being supported by the Sikhs and the Dalits, with the former virtually taking the lead to protect the Muslim minority from orchestrated attack.
The build up to the Punjab elections has been costly for the voters. Tensions spiked in Malerkotla, the only Muslim majority town in Punjab, after a copy of the Quran was alleged found desecrated. Protesters resorted to arson, 40 persons were injured, and three persons with alleged links to the RSS and Vishwa Hindu Parishad were arrested by the police. Significantly, one of those arrested was a Delhi businessman Vijay Kumar who had served a jail term in the United State sfor reportedly carrying jihadi literature. The police seemed to place him as the lynchpin of the violence, maintaining that torn pages of the Quran had been found in his Audi. And the SP was quoted in the media as saying that the plan was to desecrate a Hindu holy book next.
This case took an interesting turn with the police subsequently arresting Aam Aadmi Party MLA from Delhi Mehrauli (South), Naresh Yadav who was described as the mastermind of the conspiracy. The police said that the case against Yadav had been lodged as per the statement given by Kumar. Local politicians maintain that these games will only intensify as the polls draw near with political tensions reaching new heights.
Phagwara, however, has given sufficient material to the political leaders to chew over as the voters decided to form their own equations regardless of political affiliation.