Sangli and Kolhapur towns in the country’s sugar bowl of western Maharashtra have no history of communal trouble.
But the reason for the last five days of communal strife that has led to a series of curfews has its roots in agitations launched by Hindu organisations a decade ago.
The Hindu organisations were objecting to the encroachment by the Afzal Khan Trust at Pratapgad, where he battled Shivaji in 1659. Khan was killed at a meeting with Shivaji at Pratapgad Fort near Satara town, 275 km southwest of Mumbai. His tomb was built near the fort in Pratapgad.
In Satara, Sangli and Kolhapur that formed part of Shivaji’s kingdom, people still revere him as a god. Which is why some Hindu outfits objected to the community worship of Afzal Khan by the Muslims in these places. In 2002, after some Hindu activists tried to damage the tomb, there were riots in Satara, about 120 km from Sangli.
Said Sharad Patil, former member of the Legislative Council and social scientist, “It (angry sentiments of the past) was certainly a factor that influenced the recent communal clashes to some extent.” But he held the politicians from the ruling combine responsible for turning the present situation into a volatile confrontation.
The Shiv Sena’s Nitin Shinde, a leader of Shivpratapbhoomi Mukti Andolan that agitated at Pratapgad, blamed the ruling Congress-NCP combine, saying, “They did this to settle scores.”