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Sangli Communal Violence

The Times of India
September 8, 2009

Afzal Khan fires up saffron combine

Leaders rush to Miraj where Ganesh mandal was told to remove depiction of Shivaji Maharaj killing Bijapur general


Leaders of the Shiv Sena and BJP are making a beeline for Miraj in Sangli district to express support for members of a Ganesh mandal who were told by the police to remove a depiction of warrior-king Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj killing Afzal Khan. Police arrived at the pandal on the last day of immersion on September 3 and said it was disturbing communal harmony.

Contrary to their expectations, the move resulted in communal disturbances. It became so controversial that curfew had to be imposed in Miraj and adjoining Sangli. On Monday, arson and violence erupted in Ichalkaranji.

The controversy could not come at a worse time for the ruling Congress-NCP, as it has given ammunition to the opposition in the run-up to the Assembly elections scheduled for October 13. And, the saffron combine is milking the controversy for all it is worth.

On Sunday, BJP MLCs Madhu Chavan and Prakash Shendge were detained at Kolhapur airport and sent back in the same plane that they had arrived from Mumbai. In Sangli, Sena MLC Neelam Gorhe was arrested and her party colleagues – MLC Diwakar Raote and Parshuram Uparkar – were detained for 24 hours in Karad in neighbouring Satara district.

On Monday, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray alleged that the “government is protecting those engaged in the desecration of Lord Ganesha idols”. The same morning, senior BJP leader MP Gopinath Munde sat on a dharna for 45 minutes at Mumbai airport after being stopped by Dy Commissioner of Police Brijesh Singh from boarding a flight to Kolhapur en route to Miraj; his boarding pass was withdrawn at the last moment. In no time, BJP workers began shouting slogans outside Mumbai and Kolhapur airports. Later in the day, Munde left for Miraj by road. On the way, he addressed party workers at Chembur.

At the BJP headquarters, State unit chief Nitin Gadkari insisted that the police action was unwarranted as nobody from the Muslim community had complained. He accused the Democratic Front Government of trying to create a divide among communities. He questioned the rationale behind stopping Munde while allowing Minority Affairs Minister Anees Ahmad to visit the riot-hit town.

Thackeray has appealed to Sena supporters to put up posters of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj killing Afzal Khan across the state. “The government is trying to change history,” he roared in party mouthpiece Saamna. He demanded that the Afzal Khan killing be part of the proposed memorial of Chhatrapati Shivaji off Mumbai’s coast.



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