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Orissa tragedy takes a backseat

The killing of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, a member of VHP's margadarshak mandal, has once again sparked communal fires in Orissa, reports Soumyajit Pattnaik.

india Updated: Sep 25, 2008 16:15 IST
Soumyajit Pattnaik

The killing of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, a member of VHP's margadarshak mandal, has once again sparked communal fires in Orissa. Last December, Kandhamal district, where the swami was based, saw a major communal clash – which lasted nearly a week — after the swami’s vehicle was stopped and he was attacked, allegedly by a Christian mob. This time the disturbances are not confined to Kandhamal but have spread across 12 districts.

Orissa’s DGP Gopal Nanda has said that the swami was killed in a Maoist attack, but the VHP and Bajrang Dal refuse to believe him. A calibrated campaign has begun to blame the Christian community for the killing. The tragedy — five people were murdered at the swami’s Jaleshpata Ashram — has receded into the background; it is the hunt for the scapegoat that is in the forefront.

“A conspiracy was hatched to eliminate Swami Laxmanananda,” declared Subhash Chavan, national co-convener of the Bajrang Dal. “ The police are trying to hide the truth by blaming the Maoists.” Sadly, the sustained propaganda seems to have worked. Hindu-Christian tensions have simmered in Orissa for a long time and Monday’s bandh, called by the VHP and the Bajrang Dal, provided an opportunity to settle scores.

Chavan called the bandh a ‘spontaneous success’. But while it may indeed have brought Orissa to a halt, it was far from peaceful with churches, as well as orphanages and schools run by Christians being attacked in several places.

The state government in a damage-limitation exercise has suspended the Kandhamal superintendent of police. But the BJP, being part of the ruling coalition, and clearly keen to provide the VHP and Bajrang Dal tacit support, has been trying its best to restrain the security agencies from cracking down on the Hindu mobs. The Congress too appears more keen to score political points rather than devise ways to contain the communal fire. It has already moved a no-confidence motion against the Biju Janata Dal-BJP government.

“All district collectors report to revenue minister Manmohan Samal, who belongs to the BJP,” noted Janardan Pati, Orissa CPM state secretary. “How far can they go?”

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