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Sangli Communal Violence

The Times of India
September 8, 2009

Maharashtra in fire-fighting mode


Our Political Bureau MUMBAI

THE Maharashtra government on Monday launched a major fire-fighting exercise to contain communal riots in Western Maharashtra. After imposing curfew in three towns in the region, the state administration detained several leaders from the saffron camp, including senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde, as they tried to reach communally tense towns of Sangli and Miraj.

These cities have been under curfew for the past two days. The neighbouring textile town of Ichalkaranji too has been brought under curfew after incidents of arson and assaults were reported on Monday evening.

The trouble started on September 3, when some pro-Hindutva organisations tried to raise an arch on the immersion procession route depicting the killing of Afzal Khan, the Mughal Sardar in the court of Aurangzeb, by the Maratha king Shivaji. A section of the society objected to it following which communal clashes broke out in the area. In protest, Ganesh mandals did not immerse the idols.

    The organisers allegedly also held a “victory rally” near the arch, depicting all the followers of Chhatrapati Shivaji in saffron and Afzal Khan supporters in green. Sensing trouble, local police summoned about two dozen important Muslim community leaders and requested them to ignore the developments. “But, as it always happens, some miscreants exploited the situation to give it a communal twist especially in view of the recently-concluded Ganesh Utsav festival, the ongoing Ramzan month and the ensuing assembly elections,” a police officer said.

He said he rushed to Miraj that day and was addressing crowds of both communities from the bonnet of his official jeep when an unidentified youth also climbed atop the vehicle and tried to shout him down.

Suddenly, there was a hail of stones from different directions, prompting the police to start caning the protesters. Some of the stones are also said to have landed at the Ganesh idol, leading to heightened tensions. This was followed by violent clashes between members of the two communities that afternoon in which the poster depicting Chhatrapati Shivaji and Afzal Khan was ripped off by some unknown persons.

Worried about the communal flare up, the district administration imposed curfew on Sunday. Sangli superintendent of police (SP) Krishna Prakash said the curfew will be in force till 2pm on Tuesday. About 300 people from both communities have been arrested, the police said.

On Monday, Shiv Sena leaders Neelam Gorhe, Diwakar Raote and Parshuram Uparkar were arrested for allegedly flouting curfew orders. The police had, on Sunday, prevented BJP legislators Prakash Shendge and Madhu Chavan from entering Sangli.

In Mumbai, police detained senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde at the airport before he could board a flight to Kolhapur. Mr Munde made the best of the opportunity by launching a sit-in at the airport. Surrounded by hundreds of BJP supporters, the agitation created a ruckus at the airport for quite some time. Mr Munde was later released. He then proceeded to Miraj by road.

The incident has come as a major embarrassment for the Congress-NCP government since state home minister Jayant Patil, along with many veterans like RR Patil and Patangrao Kadam, come from Sangli. The failure of the government to contain the situation has left the government worried about the political fall-out ahead of the state assembly elections next month.


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