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Army called to quell anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat, toll rises to 20

New Delhi, Feb 28: Anti-Muslim riots spread all over the state of Gujarat, which witnessed the attack on a train yesterday, army has been called to help keep law and order after 20 persons were killed today in mob violence during the state-wide strike organised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) which is spearheading the Temple movement. Troops are being flown in from Delhi and will reach the region Friday morning.

Miscreants burned down offices of the Gujarat Waqf Board and Gujarat State Minority Finance Development Corporation offices in Ahmedabad. The buildings, located just half-a-kilometre from the chief minister's office, were burnt down toady by about forty miscreants were armed with lethal weapons. "All records, including cash, check books and computers, were burnt", said an eye-witness. 

Victims of the anti-Muslim violence include Ehsaan Jaffrey, 65, a former member of the Indian parliament from Ahmedabad city. He was burnt alive at his residence at the Gulberg Society in Chamanpura. A big mob is reported to have stormed the locality and attacked around 10 people, including Mr Jaffrey, who was set ablaze. Another victim is the noted human rights activist Professor JS Bandukwala whose house was attacked by an irate mob. "About ten people came on motorbikes, torched my car, broke the entrance gate and lobbed burning rags and pelted stones at my house," Professor Bandukwala said. He added that his neighbours, belonging to Hindu community, came out of their houses and pacified the mob. "My neighbours took me and my family to safety", Professor Bandukwala said.

A large crowd attacked a mosque in Ahmedabad today, sparking a running street battle with police and Muslim residents. Up to 100 young people pelted the mosque in a Muslim-dominated residential area of Ahmedabad with stones, bricks and glass bottles. Police arrived on the scene and managed to disperse the crowd, which then regrouped and renewed its assault as locals came out of their houses and tried to beat the assailants back. The mob also managed to start fires in two residential buildings adjoining the mosque.

According to a PTI report, Border Security Force personnel have already been deployed in the troubled cities of Gujarat. A total of 26 towns in the Gujarat state are now under curfew following violent clashes, arson and looting. Yet Mr Narendra Modi, chief minister of the state, who represents the BJP, said the people have excercised restraint! "I believe that the reaction of the people is that of restraint compared to what the terrorists did in Godhra, which was clearly a terrorist attack on innocent train passengers". While the central government has asked all states to prevent VHP volunteers from proceeding to Adyodhya, the Gujarat chief minister stated that "we will now start giving protection to the volunteers in trains". 

Compared to the swift condemnation of yesterday's train attack no voices were heard today when VHP hoodlums went on the rampage, killing and burning innocent people.

In New Delhi Home Minister LK Advani told Parliament that all states have been put on alert following the attack on the Sabarmati Express and the violence in Gujarat. 

He made the statement following repeated demands by the Opposition. "The Gujarat government has ordered a judicial inquiry into the incident and more than 40 people have been arrested," said Advani. "The Center and state are inquiring who did this. We apprehend that such an incident can happen anywhere and all states have been put on alert." 

"No words are too strong to condemn this act. The government is trying to make sure that there is no communal problem. Everybody should condemn the incident," said Advani. He reiterated that the government is also investigating whether there is any other angle to the incident.

Abdullah Bukhari, Imam of the Delhi Jama Masjid met the Prime Minister this evening and said the Gujarat government wasn't doing enough to contain violence in Gujarat. The Imam said that he was worried about the situation in Gujarat since Chief Minister Modi had been unable to do anything to contain the violence in the state. 
He said that Modi had no right to continue as the chief minister. He also accused the Modi administration of being hand-in-glove with the VHP. Condemning the violent incidents of Wednesday and Thursday, Bukhari said that the Modi administration should have banned the VHP. 

On the other hand, a top Hindu leader has attacked VHP for its tactics and has blamed it for the violence. Shankaracharya Swami Shri Aadhog Shajananda of Shri Govardhan Math, on of the top Hindu religious leaders, said in a statement that 'After failing in UP to capture power by politicizing the Temple issue, VHP is resorting to create communal unease in Gujarat and other parts of the country as a political strategy. During communal riots of Gujarat in July 1999 indulgence of the workers of VHP and Bajrang Dal had also surfaced. The administrative machinery was pressured by Shri Praveen Togadia of VHP through the Home Minister of Gujarat, to take no action against the activists of VHP and Bajrang Dal.' He added that 'The Shocking events of Gujarat should be an eye opener for the administration of Gujarat and the centre. They should undertake all appropriate steps immediately without caring about political affiliations and interventions in order to save the unity and religious-minded people from the rowdy elements.' The Hindu pontiff said that if the prime minister thinks he is unable to tackle the situation and his party is not paying heed to him, he should step down.

Forty one persons have been arrested by the Railway Police from Godhra in connection with the attack on Sabarmati Express on Wednesday. They have been charged with murder and attempt to murder. These arrests, officials said, are apart from the 22 persons arrested by the Godhra police, which include two municipal councillors.

As if not satisfied with the violence in Gujarat the VHP had now called for nationwide strike tomorrow, Friday. There is every likelihood that violence will be perpetrated against Muslims on a wider scale as a result. Making a call for a nationwide strike, Onkar Bhave, joint general secretary of the VHP said, "We have told our kar sevaks go to Ayodhya and if they are going to get arrested, we have told them to get arrested. It is the sants [Hindu religious leaders] who will decide the course of events at Ayodhya," he added. Making a personal attack on the Prime Minister, Bhave said, "The sants are more important and more trustworthy than the Prime Minister. The government has not done anything for two years and now there is no going back on the Ayodhya campaign," he added. 

Meanwhile the Andhra Pradesh state unit of the VHP has outrightly rejected Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's appeal to suspend the temple movement in the wake of yesterday's train attack. Mr Vajpayee and State Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu had appealed to VHP to suspend the temple movement after the killing of 57 karsewaks [volunteers], returning from Ayodhya yesterday. ''Any attempt by the Centre and the State Government to stop Ram sevaks from proceeding to Ayodhya for the yagna, will not be tolerated,'' they warned.

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