It is not the first time that there is tension in Malerkotla over sacrilege of the Quran. In September 2010, curfew was clamped in the town after a 200-strong mob set ablaze one of its three churches at night after rumours that a Quran copy was burnt in Michigan, US.
On June 24 , when the news of torn pages of Quran found near a madrasa in the town spread, a 300-strong mob marched towards the residence of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) MLA Farzana Nissara Khatoon and reportedly threw petrol bombs and fired gunshots. The next day, her husband, former Punjab director general of police (DGP) Mohammad Izhar Alam, accused former Congress MLA Razia Sultana of a conspiracy behind the attack on their house.
Both Farzana and Razia, wife of another police officer, Mohammad Mustafa, who was promoted as DGP by the Punjab government in March this year, are fielded as proxies by the two top cops in the state’s only Muslim-dominated seat. Meeting visitors at his residence, Alam claims he got to know about the sacrilege around 9.20 pm on June 24, and none of the DC (deputy commissioner), SSP (senior superintendent of police) or DSP (deputy SP) picked up his phone.
“I felt as if I was under a siege. Before I could leave for the spot where the torn pages were found, the mob was at my door. They lobbed petrol bombs, burnt down a barrack of guards and fired gunshots. Being the month of Ramzan, many Muslims were busy in namaz (prayers) at the time, but those who attacked my house were not bothered to perform their prayers,” he says.
Razia claims Alam has falsely named 19 people in the FIR registered for the attack. “All of them are innocent. The special investigation team (SIT of the police) knows it, and so does the town, that the attack was orchestrated by two municipal councillors of the SAD,” she says.
Alam does not rule out the possibility: “Some disgruntled elements in the SAD too could have been involved.”
And, even as they disagree on most other things, the sitting and the former MLA say the police are doing a “fair and commendable” job. The police have interrogated Mehrauli (Delhi) MLA of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Naresh Yadav for his alleged involvement in the Quran sacrilege after an arrested accused named him. “We have full faith in the police investigation,” Razia said.
Alam points out the math. “Muslim vote matters in as many as 15 (of 117) constituencies in Punjab where there are more than 5,000 Muslims,” he says.
But, the people on the streets of Malerkotla, from where AAP led in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and its candidate Bhagwant Mann won the Sangrur seat with the highest margin in Punjab, are not convinced.
“Sangrur police could not find the killers of 11-year-old Vidhu Jain in 10 months and we had to knock at the doors of the Punjab and Haryana high court to transfer the case to the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation). How have they nabbed the culprits in this (sacrilege case) within three days?” ask Vidhu’s uncles, Prem Jain and Vinod Jain, and his father, Navneet Jain.
Ajmat Dara (40), a local Muslim industrialist who is eyeing the AAP ticket, says thousands came for Kejriwal’s Iftar party despite protests by SAD-BJP workers. “They (SAD-BJP and Congress) will go to any extent to keep the AAP out,” he adds.
Many also question how the police nabbed those allegedly behind the Quran sacrilege within three days while those responsible for the sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib or the murder of Namdhari sect matriarch Chand Kaur have not yet been caught.
Alam attributes it to divine intervention. “God came to our help and the police were able to nab the culprits within 72 hours. Thankfully, the mob that day headed towards my home and not towards the houses of Hindus. Also, mercifully, no one was fatally injured in the attack on my house.”