VHP leader's murder, riots major issues in Orissa
The killing of a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader last year and the communal violence it triggered in Orissa have become major election campaign issues.india Updated: Apr 07, 2009 15:18 IST
The killing of a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader last year and the communal violence it triggered in Orissa have become major election campaign issues.
At one rally after another, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik's Biju Janata Dal (BJD), which ended their 11-year alliance last month, are blaming each other for the violence.
Predictably, the Congress is accusing both the BJP and the BJD for letting the violence rage on for days.
It was in Kandhamal district, 200 km from Bhubaneswar, that VHP's Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his aides were shot dead at his ashram August 23, 2008.
Thirty-eight people were killed and more than 25,000 Christians forced to flee their homes after their houses were attacked by mobs. About 3,170 people are still in relief camps.
Orissa goes to the polls to elect 21 Lok Sabha and 147 assembly members on April 16 and 23.
At most campaign rallies, BJP leaders have been criticising the chief minister for failing to protect Hindus.
"The spirit of Swami Laxmanananda will shatter the dreams of Naveen Patnaik," Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi thundered at a public rally in Bhubaneswar on Sunday.
He accused Patnaik of not arresting the killers "because of vote bank politics" -- a Hindu nationalist euphemism to mean minorities.
BJP leader Sushma Swaraj also accused Patnaik of not doing enough to nab the killers.
"The government sat quietly after the killing while the Swami's killers roamed free," Swaraj told a meeting in Bhubaneswar.
The BJP has nominated Manoj Pradhan, an accused in the riots, for the assembly election from G Udayagiri constituency in the district. He was arrested about four months ago and is still in jail.
Ashok Sahu, a firebrand Hindu leader linked to the VHP, is contesting for the Phulbani Lok Sabha seat.
The BJD has accused the BJP of playing the communal card to grab votes. "The BJP is a communal party and it has a communal agenda," Patnaik told a public meeting at Bolangir on Sunday.
BJD Rajya Sabha member Pyari Mohan Mohapatra said the coalition collapsed because the BJP and its affiliates were involved in the communal riots and tried to whip up communal passions.
Congress leaders are targeting both the BJP and the BJD, blaming them for the communal divide in Kandhamal.
Addressing an election rally in western Orissa's Bargarh town April 2, Congress president Sonia Gandhi asked the people to be vigilant vis-a-vis "divisive forces".
"The people of Orissa are peace-loving but seeds of hatred are being sown by some outfits in the name of religion and caste. Kandhamal is an example," she said.