BJP shutdown: clashes in some states, quiet in others (Roundup)

July 3rd, 2008 - 8:36 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Bharatiya Janata Party

New Delhi, July 3 (IANS) It acquired an ugly communal edge in Madhya Pradesh where two people were killed and led to highways being blocked and trains being stopped elsewhere — the BJP-VHP shutdown against the decision to cancel land allotted to the Amarnath shrine in Jammu and Kashmir hit some states, leaving others unaffected. Educational establishments were closed in many places, offices reported thin attendance and many shops downed their shutters as the strike came into effect.

Amongst the worst hit was Bharatiya Janata Party ruled Madhya Pradesh where Communal clashes erupted in many towns, including Indore, where curfew was clamped following violent clashes that led to two people being killed.

The situation was also tense in old Bhopal, following forcible closure of Muslim-owned shops, where stone pelting and arson took place as pro and anti-shutdown supporters clashed and in the town of Satna, police said.

In Satna, a Muslim trader set himself on fire after his jewellery shop was among those allegedly vandalised by activists of the Hindu militant Bajrang Dal. He was admitted to hospital with severe burns.

The shutdown was total in Chhattisgarh, also ruled by the BJP though the state was peaceful, as well as Assam. However, the strike had no impact in the other northeastern states of Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram.

Although states like Tamil Nadu, Bihar and West Bengal were left largely untouched by the daylong strike call as was the Indian capital, there was sporadic trouble in Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.

Interestingly, Gujarat’s ruling BJP declined to participate saying that it sympathised with the cause but did not want to take a chance with the precarious security situation in view of the annual Jagannath Rath yatra Friday.

“About 150 rath yatras are taken out in the state, and keeping the security aspect uppermost in mind we have decided not to join the strike,” BJP spokesperson and Rajya Sabha MP Vijay Rupani told IANS.

He said the decision was taken after parleys with party president Rajnath Singh.

The Gujarat government, he said, had a lot at stake and wanted to ensure that the annual procession in honour of Lord Jagannath passed off peacefully. “No chances can be taken on security and communal peace,” Rupani added.

It was the same fear that kept the situation under control in Orissa, which is governed by the Biju Janata Dal-BJP alliance.

“We observed the shutdown for only two hours in the morning because of the annual rath yatra in Puri on Friday,” said a coordinator for the Bajrang Dal, an ally of the VHP, Subash Chouhan.

But there was plenty of trouble elsewhere.

The Delhi-Bhopal Shatabdi train was stopped near Agra as were other trains in Ural and Mughalsarai districts.

If train passengers suffered so did those using highways to get to their destination as workers of the BJP and the VHP took to the streets.

The Delhi-Amritsar highway was blocked by the protesters as was the Chandigarh-Ludhiana highway and other arterial roads across the states.

There were also reports of shops being vandalised. In Uttar Pradesh’s Kanpur and Lucknow cities, in Punjab’s Rajpura town, where activists targeted a Subhiksha grocery store, and in Mumbai as well - where vandals barged into the Kashmir Arts Emporium and started breaking the furniture and fittings.

Claiming that the shutdown was successful, BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said the rallies would be held till the 40 hectares were handed back to the board that manages the pilgrimage to the Amarnath shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva.

“The rallies would be held by the state units and central leaders would address them,” he said.

The violence in Madhya Pradesh, he said, “was the result of some mischief”.

VHP’s international general secretary Praveen Togadia also claimed success and sought to distance himself from the clashes.

Referring to the incidents of violence, the head of the radical Hindu organisation said: “VHP denies responsibility of any criminal act carried out during today’s ‘Bharat bandh’.”

The Jammu and Kashmir government Tuesday formally cancelled the allotment of 40 hectares of forest land for the Amarnath board that manages the pilgrimage to the high altitude shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva that is visited by millions of Hindu pilgrims every year. The issue that has polarised the country’s only Muslim-majority state and led to curfew in Hindu-majority Jammu region has been picked up the BJP and the VHP in the hope that it will find wider resonance in the rest of the country.

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