As Narendra Modi took oath as the Prime Minister in Delhi on Monday, communal violence involving rejoicing BJP supporters and a group of vegetable vendors from a minority community erupted around 2,000 km away in the north Karnataka town of Bijapur.
Led by former Union minister Basavanagouda Patil Yatnal, hundreds of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) activists were taking out a victory procession, timed to coincide with Modi’s swearing-in. The violence erupted around 7pm when the procession reached LBS vegetable market in the heart of Bijapur, about 520km off Bangalore.
“The BJP workers were applying gulaal (coloured powder) on the faces of the public. Some vegetable vendors objected when the activists tried to smear the gulaal on their faces,” said a police officer who did not want to be named.
“This led to an argument and soon turned into a brawl. A full-fledged riot broke out within five minutes.”
The market was ransacked and at least 15 persons were injured in the violence.
Footage of the violence, aired by local television channels, show it took place right outside the Gandhi Chowk police station in the heart of the town.
“There was too much confusion. I don’t know. The footage needs to be verified,” the officer said, when asked what Yatnal was doing.
In the visuals, heavily outnumbered police personnel are seen standing as spectators even as rioters run amok.
The police dispersed the BJP activists, but a mob suspected to be on the side of the vegetable vendors soon descended upon the scene. Even as television cameras rolled live, the mob attacked the nearby police station and destroyed valuable public property.
The mob also damaged Yatnal’s office and a vehicle belonging to his relative. Despite repeated attempts, Yatnal could not be reached for comment.
The situation was brought under control nearly two hours after the clashes began.
Bijapur superintendent of police Ram Nivas Sepat, who is on leave, said, “I am closely monitoring everything. The situation has been brought under control. Prohibitory orders under section 144 (CrPC) have been imposed. Investigations are on to ascertain the cause of the violence.”