Former minister held for Amravati violence
Former Maharashtra agriculture minister and senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Anil Bonde, Amravati mayor Chetan Gawande and district BJP chief Nivedita Chaudhary were among 14 persons arrested on Monday and booked for illegal gathering and allegedly inciting violence during a large-scale protest in Amravati city that resulted in arson and destruction of property and left 15 people injured on Saturday. A lower court granted bail to all arrested persons on Monday evening. Additionally, 46 persons were detained on Monday for participating in the protests but were let off.
The BJP had called a bandh in Amravati on Saturday to protest against the shutdown called by groups including Muslim organisation Raza Academy the previous day. Friday’s rallies in some districts, including Amravati, Nashik and Nanded, turned violent as crowds resorted to stone-pelting in communally sensitive Malegaon and three policemen were injured in Nanded.
“The home minister has directed police to keep a close watch on the people and outfits with notorious background and take action against those indulging in disturbing the social harmony ahead of the forthcoming local body elections. Police need to be extra vigilant anticipating a reaction to the police action against Naxalite in Gadchiroli last week, the home minister told the senior officials,” a statement issued by Dilip Walse Patil’s office read.
A political war of words also broke out on Monday after Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader and state minister Nawab Malik accused BJP of trying to instigate riots in Maharashtra and alleged that Bonde had distributed cash and liquor to incite Saturday’s violence.
“There were no riots between two communities in Amravati. Instead a former BJP minister Anil Bonde and other leaders conspired to incite communal riots. Cash and liquor were distributed in order to incite riots in Amravati, following which stones were pelted and shops were burnt. All this has come in the police probe and action has been initiated,” Malik told reporters on Monday.
“It has also come to light that a large amount of cash was sent from Mumbai to Amravati that was distributed through MLAs and a probe is going on into this. BJP comes out with the weapon of riots to do their politics as a last resort after all its other weapons have failed. But we believe the people of Maharashtra are wise and will not accept such conspiracies and destructive politics. They have thwarted their plans,” Malik said.
Bonde, who is a practising doctor called his arrest “illegal” and said that the BJP’s morcha was “peaceful” and that miscreants attacked people in Saturday’s protests, following which the police had to fire tear gas to dispel crowds. “I have not incited anyone during my speech. The Saturday protest march against the vandalism by a certain group on shops and establishments in different parts in the city was totally spontaneous. Unfortunately, the city police arrested BJP workers for organising the morcha. However, no proper action was taken against those who had taken out morcha and indulged in stone pelting on several shops and establishments on Friday,” he said.
“Nawab Malik made baseless allegations of distributing cash and liquor against me. I will file a defamation case against him,” Bonde said.
NCP chief Sharad Pawar said the BJP incited violence with an eye on the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls early next year. Pawar also slammed organizations like Raza Academy for organizing protests in Maharashtra.
Shiv Sena leader Kishore Tiwari said the BJP resorted to “communal tactics” to polarise voters, eyeing the next year’s civic elections in Maharashtra as well as 2022 elections in some states.
BJP legislator Nitesh Rane however accused the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government of “shielding” Raza Academy.
“The protests organised on November 12 (Friday) were planned by Raza Academy days ahead of the rallies by distributing pamphlets, through other forms of communication by instigating people. Despite this, there was permission given to them to organise protest rallies. Is it not the failure of intelligence? Why action was not taken against the Raza Academy? You have been raising questions over Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Anil Bonde, but the question is why are you shielding [them?],” Rane asked.
On Saturday, violence broke out in parts of Amravati city, including Cotton Market, Raj Kamal Chowk, Rajapeth, Namuna, Jawahar Gate areas. Several shops were set on fire in Rajapeth and Namuna areas and protestors damaged public and private property, including government vehicles. At least four battalions of the State Reserve Police Force were deployed to maintain law and order in the city.
Several persons were also detained on Saturday following the BJP-called bandh, and the authorities imposed an indefinite curfew and suspended internet services. Section 144 was also imposed in Nashik, Nanded, Nagpur and Pune. Acting Commissioner of Police, Amravati, Sandip Patil, stated that essential services would be exempt from curfew in Amravati.
Those injured on Saturday’s protests are admitted in Amravati’s Irwin civil hospital, and two other private hospitals.
Amravati district guardian minister Yashomati Thakur said the violence was unfortunate. “Everyone has a right to protest. But violence in the name of protest is not right. We appeal to the people to maintain peace. Some malicious elements are working to spread violence in the city and police are working to maintain law and order,” she said.
On Friday, religious and political outfits had called for a peaceful bandh — to shut local establishments and shops — following which memorandums were to be submitted to the collectors of the various districts. The call was supported by the Congress, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Samajwadi party.
The bandh was to protest against the treatment of the Muslim community in Tripura, where on October 26, a mosque, a few houses and shops were reportedly vandalised by members of the right-wing group, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), during a rally. Though four people were arrested in the purported incident in Tripura, the police said that no mosque was burnt and photographs showing the same were not from Tripura. The Tripura police arrested two journalists and booked several others under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
Raza Academy had handed over a memorandum to the Maharashtra governor. Those affected by the violence in Tripura should be given compensation and the mosques which were damaged should be reconstructed, it had demanded.
A day after Saturday’s protestors hurled stones at shops and set establishments on fire, the VHP on Sunday demanded a ban on Raza Academy. Addressing a press conference at the VHP office in the Dhantoli area of Nagpur in Maharashtra, VHP general secretary Milind Parande said the right-wing body will lodge FIRs in various police stations against the rioters.
On Friday, protestors pelted stones at police vans and police personnel sustained injuries at Deglur Naka and Shivaji Nagar in Nanded. Protestors were also seen torching shops and police vehicles in Malegaon and Amravati, following which the riot squad was called in to quell the protests. In Amravati’s Kotwali police station First Information Reports (FIR) have been lodged naming hundreds of protesters. “No permission was given to the protest rally. We are registering a case against the protesters and action would be taken accordingly,” said Vikram Sali, DCP, Amravati.
Malik on Monday also released a photograph of BJP leader and legislator Ashish Shelar with Saeed Noori, the head of Raza Academy along with other community leaders.
Shelar responded saying that the photograph shown by Malik was an old one and he had nothing to do with Saturday’s violence in Amravati.
“The meeting in which I am seen in the photo with Raza Academy office bearers was taken back in 2016-17 and that too not in their office. What is the relevance between the violence and the photograph? BJP can release hundreds of such photographs if the NCP and Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi allies want to do the politics over it. They (MVA leaders) would not be in position to roam around openly if we did this,” Shelar said.