As security forces mounted an intensive drive to restore normalcy in riot-hit Muzaffarnagar, Shamli and Baghpat districts of west Uttar Pradesh, two more persons were killed on Monday, taking the death toll in the past three days of communal carnage to 31.
With political parties accusing each other of engineering the fresh round of communal riots for gains in next year’s general elections, the under-fire Akhilesh Yadav-led government barred union minister Ajit Singh and several BJP MPs including Ravi Shankar Prasad from visiting the troubled district.
It also booked BJP legislative party leader Hukum Singh, MLAs Suresh Rana, Bhartendu, Sangeet Som and former Congress MP Harendra Malik for violating prohibitory orders.
In Delhi, home minister Sushilkumar Shinde said the Centre had alerted 11 states about possible communal incidents. “I don’t think he (Akhilesh Yadav) ignored these warnings,” Shinde said.
Concerned over the killings, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke to Akhilesh Yadav, assuring him of all help from the Centre to deal with the situation.
The government also cancelled firearms licenses in the worst-hit areas of Muzaffarngar district, as rioters had freely used the weapons during the clashes. As many as 15,569 people carry licensed weapons in the district.
"We are also cancelling arms licenses in Phugana, Shahpur, Dhaurakalan as they were misused during the violence," said additional director general of police (law and order), Arun Kumar.
While the army conducted a flag-march for the second consecutive day on Monday, violence spread to neighbouring district of Shamli where a 40-year-old Imam of a mosque, Maulana Umar Din, was shot dead, Shamli district magistrate PK Singh said. Principal secretary home RM Srivastava said the death toll has reached 31. Major communal violence incidents in UP this year
Muzaffarnagar district magistrate Kaushal Raj Sharma said one person was stabbed to death in Meerapur town of the district today.
"One person was stabbed to death and one other injured when some miscreants attacked them," Sharma said, adding that at least six people have been taken into police custody for interrogation in this connection.
BJP leader Kalraj Mishra, however, said SP was playing “vote-bank” politics over the clashes.
The 12-hourly situation reports would help the central government to assess the prevailing situation, he said, adding steps could be taken accordingly.
Uttar Pradesh governor BL Joshi has sent a report on the Muzaffarnagar violence to the Centre, which, sources said, has details regarding the administrative lapses as well as the situation prevailing there.
A journalist for the local IBN7 television network and a police photographer were among those killed in the violence on Saturday, the most serious in recent years.
Politically pivotal Uttar Pradesh witnessed deadly riots in 1992 following the razing of a mosque by a Hindu mob. More than 2,000 people -- mostly Muslims -- were killed after the 16th-century mosque in Ayodhya was demolished in some of India's worst communal clashes.
The latest violence has triggered speculation that political parties are seeking to polarise the state along religious lines ahead of general elections due next year.
The state's secular ruling Samajwadi Party has accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of fuelling tensions with inflammatory speeches.
A video posted online appearing to show two men being lynched by a mob seems to have aggravated tensions although police said it was faked.
The clashes erupted late Saturday after thousands of farmers from a particular community held a meeting to demand justice over the killing of three men of another community who had protested when a woman was allegedly harassed.
Provocative speeches were allegedly made during Saturday's meeting. The farmers were attacked as they were returning home from the meeting, triggering an angry backlash, media reported. Clashes then broke out in neighbouring villages and the army stepped in to try to control the situation.
Meanwhile, alleging that communal clashes in Muzaffarnagar and neighbouring areas was a political conspiracy, chief minister Akhilesh Yadav said, “It is a conspiracy to defame and destabilise my government which is doing a good job for the poor, the youths and all sections of the society," he told reporters here.
"Political parties are trying to find ways to attack the government and this they have done in the past also. Earlier, in Shamli they have tried to vitiate the atmosphere of the state but it was thwarted," Akhilesh said.
In Lucknow, state home secretary Kamal Saxena said, “People in a minority in villages were being shifted to safer places”. He said the Centre was constantly in touch with the state government and had provided 78 companies (2,400 troopers) of paramilitary forces apart from 10 columns (800 soldiers) of the army. These forces have been deployed in the three affected districts.