(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
November 02, 2008
Maharashtra In The Throes Of Vicious Divisive Politics
Maharashtra is currently in the throes of vicious divisive politics based on religious fundamentalism and regional chauvinism. Like elsewhere in the country, it is deliberately timed to vitiate the atmosphere on the eve of the Lok Sabha elections and also the Vidhan Sabha elections that are due in September 2009.
On September 29, 2008, Malegaon, for the second time in two years, was rocked by a powerful bomb blast that killed five innocents including a ten year old girl and seriously injured over a hundred. It has now transpired that Hindutva forces were behind these bomb blasts, and the police have arrested a sadhvi who was herself a former ABVP leader, Pradnya Singh Thakur and five others with clear Sangh Parivar links. RSS connections in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra are being investigated into for both the Malegaon and Modasa bomb blasts in Gujarat that occurred the same day. This discovery, together with the earlier bomb blasts in Nanded, Jalna, Vashi, Thane and Kanpur, in which also Hindutva forces were involved, has blown to smithereens the ‘campaign against terrorism’ launched by the BJP-RSS and their rabid communal outfits.
On October 5, a ghastly communal riot broke out in nearby Dhule, a town which has had a long history of communal harmony. The riot continued for a week despite curfew being imposed. Ten persons were killed and over 500 injured in the riot. It also destroyed homes, shops, vehicles and other property worth at least Rs 10 crore. The riots spread to some of the villages in Dhule and Nandurbar districts and led to violence in Aurangabad and Parbhani in Maharashtra as well as in Burhanpur in Madhya Pradesh, where eight more people were killed. The BJP-RSS and its Hindu Rakshak Samiti were primarily responsible for the mayhem, but some Muslim fundamentalist forces also incited violence. The administration stood paralysed and sections of the police openly helped majority communalists.
On October 19, hoodlums of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) led by Raj Thackeray beat up North Indian youth and prevented them from appearing for the railway board examinations in and around Mumbai city. When Raj was belatedly arrested, a spate of violence followed leading to the death of four people and massive destruction of property. The chauvinism has now culminated in the death of a Bihari youth in a so-called encounter and the lynching of a labourer from UP in an attack in a suburban train. Not to be left behind, the Shiv Sena is also indulging in chauvinism and communalism. The condemnable regional chauvinist campaign against North Indians begun by Raj Thackeray last January, which replicated a similar campaign against South Indians led by his uncle Bal Thackeray over four decades ago, is now coming home to roost.
One of the most disturbing features with regard to all the above divisive events is the cynical and callous attitude of the Congress-NCP state government. With regard to the chauvinist campaign of the MNS, it is widely believed that Raj Thackeray was actually encouraged by the Congress-NCP regime for the last few months with a view to break the Shiv Sena’s Marathi vote bank. Four decades ago, the Congress government similarly encouraged Bal Thackeray in order to weaken the communist influence in Mumbai. That is why Raj was consistently given the kid-glove treatment by the state government. It was now forced to act only because of the nationwide uproar resulting from the MNS attack on the North Indian youth appearing for the railway board examination. The recent killing of a young UP labourer shows how deep the virus of regional chauvinism has spread.
On October 18, 2008, a CPI(M) team led by its Polit Bureau member Sitaram Yechury, MP, visited Dhule and Malegaon and this visit had a good political impact. Yechury was accompanied at both places by CPI(M) state secretary Dr Ashok Dhawale, state committee member Kisan Gujar, Dhule city secretary L R Rao and Nashik city committee member Vijay Patil. During the Dhule visit, he was joined by state committee members Jaisingh Mali and Nathu Salve and several other district committee members and Party members from Dhule and Nandurbar districts, as well as some local CPI leaders. At Malegaon, he was joined by Malegaon tehsil secretary Rajendra Aher, Jalil Ahmed, Baburao Khairnar, Wahid Ansari, Hamid Mukadam and other Party members.
The local Party units in Dhule and Malegaon had even earlier reacted swiftly to the riots and bomb blasts, had organized help to the victims and had mobilised other Left and secular forces for the restoration of peace and for relief and rehabilitation.
In Dhule, after visiting the riot-affected areas, Yechury met the district collector Prajakta Lavangare, apprised her of the ground situation and placed before her the Party’s demands as regards immediate relief and rehabilitation, the restoration of peace and stringent action against the culprits. The same evening, the district collector herself went to some of the worst-affected areas and distributed compensation cheques to the riot-affected and also free grain. This created confidence among the people about the CPI(M) and the Left. In both Dhule and Malegaon, Yechury addressed well-attended media conferences which prominently covered the Party’s stand and demands.
In Dhule, the CPI(M) team visited the following riot-affected areas: Gajanan Nagar, Gafoor Nagar, Aqsa Nagar, Vitabhatti, Datta Mandir. Burhani Complex, Pinjari Chawl and the Station Road area. Except in the first-named area where it was the majority community that was attacked, in all other areas it was the minority community that had been the target. The scene everywhere was truly heart-rending and hundreds of men, women and children would come out to tell us their woes and show us the damage done.
Hundreds of families in all these areas – all working class families of labourers, artisans, small shopkeepers, autorickshaw drivers and the like – had lost all that they ever had. Most of them told us that all that they were left with were just the clothes that they wore. The manner of destruction was everywhere similar –– first the houses or shops would be looted of all their belongings and then burnt, often by igniting the gas cylinder in the house. Autorickshaws, motorcycles, bicycles had been burnt by the hundreds and they lay before us in a charred state. The houses were also charred black from the blasts of the gas cylinders. Many families had starved for days since they had had no food. The women and children were, of course, the worst-affected by the riots.
When asked who the attackers were, we were told in most places that “they came from outside.” In some places, a few said that these outside attackers were helped by the locals. The minorities had lost all faith in the police. In the area called Vitabhatti, residents told us that the rioters wreaked havoc even during curfew hours in the very presence of the police. When they questioned the police about this later, some of the policemen arrogantly replied that “they were Hindus first and policemen later”!
We visited the Sarvajanik Hospital run by a Muslim trust where we met many who were seriously injured in the riots. Some of them were completely paralysed due to spinal cord injuries. When we asked some of them if they had got any compensation from the government, they replied, “The police have lodged rioting cases against us, so we are not eligible for getting any compensation.”
Another aspect of the riots was the deliberate attempt to shatter the economic backbone of the minority community. Shops and establishments belonging to Muslims were singled out for loot and arson. A particular target was the Bohra community which is relatively better placed economically. The Burhani Super Shop in the Burhani Complex was looted before the very eyes of its owner, Mr Sakriwala. He told us, “I tried to ring up the police and government authorities hundreds of times when the looting began, but they simply refused to come.”
The vandals tried to set alight a petrol pump nearby and the Muslim owner begged the vandals, “Kill me and my family if you like, but please let the petrol pump alone. If you set fire to it, half of Dhule city will be razed to the ground!” The vandals severely beat up the owner and went away.
The Hyatt Surgical Hospital of a young surgeon Dr Parvez Mujawar was destroyed and all his surgical instruments were ransacked. He told us, “Anticipating such an attack, I shifted all my patients to a nearby hospital under police protection, and the moment the last patient was shifted, the attack on my clinic began.” He was back at work in his clinic when we met him.
Chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, deputy chief minister cum home minister R R Patil and several other officials visited Dhule, but the riots continued unabated for a week. No one could explain why the riots in a small town like Dhule lasted this long. This was nothing but the sheer abdication of responsibility and lack of political will on the part of the Congress-NCP state government. When the riots were on, leaders of the Shiv Sena and BJP like opposition leader Ramdas Kadam, Diwakar Raote, Neelam Gorhe and Eknath Khadse visited Dhule, went exclusively to Gajanan Nagar where Hindus were attacked and made inflammatory statements to the press that sought to add fuel to the fire.
GENESIS OF THE DHULE RIOTS
From what we learnt, the genesis of the Dhule riots was as follows. On September 21, there was tension and some rioting in a nearby village called Nardana because of the love affair between a Hindu girl and a Muslim boy. While tension was brewing over this issue came the Malegaon bomb blasts on September 29. Malegaon is less than 50 km from Dhule. The Sangh Parivar had already given its nationwide call for a campaign against terrorism (read Muslims). In Dhule, the Hindu Rakshak Samiti called for a public meeting on October 5. Venomous folders of this meeting were distributed and provocative boards and banners were put up all over the city.
We got a copy of this folder. On the first page, as convenors of this meeting there are six names with their significant designations, as follows: Maheshbhau Mistry (president, Hindu Rakshak Samiti) – he is also a Shiv Sena corporator; Hiraman Appa Gavali (working president, Hindu Rakshak Samiti); Atulbhau Sonavane (district chief, Shiv Sena); Adv Sambhaji Pagare (district president, BJP); Nanabhau Joshi (regional secretary, RSS); Gopal Bapu Kele (reception committee chairman, Hindu Rakshak Samiti). On the fourth page of the folder are 124 other names of persons belonging to the above mentioned organisations.
On the second and third page is an extremely inflammatory appeal. Sample the following: “The jihadis have threatened the whole world: either you accept our religion or be prepared to face death…Oh animals, who are you to teach us worship, prayer and religion? In this respect, we are your great-grandfathers…Hindus, if you do not wake up now, it will be too late! Our family members are being killed every day, how much are we going to bear it?...We will make untiring efforts to save our country and our religion. We will also have to set up suicide squads!”
The government and police should have immediately cracked down upon this clear effort at inciting communal polarisation. Instead, they gave permission for this public meeting. On the morning of the meeting, October 5, there was a welcome arranged for a Congress corporator Sabir Shaikh who had returned from abroad. Several Muslim youth had gathered. Suddenly, a rumour spread that the boards of the Hindu Rakshak Samiti meeting were torn. And the riot began – and spread inexorably! There is no doubt that it had been pre-planned by the Sangh Parivar.
However, there was also a silver lining to this dark cloud. In several areas, Hindus and Muslims protected one another and escorted each other to safety. The driver of our car, a local Muslim, told Yechury that in his area all Hindus and Muslims came together, resolved to stay united and to rebuff all attempts by anyone to fan the flames of discord. And they succeeded. The area remained peaceful. This example was repeated in many places. In one area we went, we were told that the Hindutva hoodlums themselves came to attack a local Mandir, so that this pretext could be used as a reason to attack more Muslims. But it was Muslims who came together and prevented the Mandir from coming to harm. It is such examples that reaffirm our faith in, and commitment to, secularism.
At Malegaon, we visited the crowded Bhikhu Chowk where the bomb blasts took place a little after 9.30 pm on September 29. Abdul Chacha, an old shopkeeper in front of whose shop the two- wheeler in which the bomb was placed was parked, told us, “On that day in the evening at about 4 pm, I noticed this unknown two-wheeler parked outside my shop. When it remained there for some time, I went to the local police station which is literally one minute away to complain. Nobody heeded me. After an hour I went to the police station to make another complaint. But they did nothing. In the night I went for my namaaz and was returning when the blast occurred with all its fury. Had I been in the shop when the blast occurred, you would not have met me today! But five other innocents died, including a small girl, and over a hundred were seriously injured.” He showed us his shop. The deep holes caused by the blast on his shop walls, and a big hole even in his steel cupboard, was testimony to the power of the bomb that burst at Malegaon.
Here we visited the family of the 10 year old girl who died. Her father tearfully showed us a copy of her beautiful photograph. That was all that remained of her now. We visited the house of another 70 year old man who died in the blast. We then visited the hospital where three patients were still being nursed for their injuries.
The people here were extremely agitated over the fact that immediately after the blasts, the police round-up of suspected Muslim youth began with a vengeance. The same thing had happened two years ago, when there were bomb blasts in the same Muslim-majority city. Even today, we were told, nine Muslim youth were still languishing in jail, but no charge-sheets had been served on them. This was an open invitation to alienation.
And now that the hand of Hindutva forces is becoming evident in the Malegaon bomb blasts, what do the police and the government have to say? And what does the Sangh Parivar have to say now about its so-called ‘campaign against terrorism’?