Bulldozing the Democracy: First came provoking mobs, then bulldozers

A slew of questions over the violence in Madhya Pradesh’s Khargone still remain unanswered. What is clear though is that CM Shivraj Chouhan has taken inspiration from the ‘Bulldozer Baba’ in UP

A bulldozer demolishing houses and shops in Khargone, Madhya Pradesh
A bulldozer demolishing houses and shops in Khargone, Madhya Pradesh

Kashif Kakvi

Several videos and CCTV footage from Khargone’s Talab Chowk showed a crowd, part of the Ram Navami procession on April 10, waving saffron flags while standing before a mosque and playing loud music. It continued till 5 pm when the stone pelting began.

According to official sources, a call was given to gather at the communally sensitive Talab Chowk ground near the mosque after a heated argument broke out between the police and state vice president of Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) Shyam Mahajan over the partially barricading the entries of Muslim colonies and mosque to prevent any untoward incident.

The barricading had shrunk the road which was allegedly causing problem to carry out Ram Navami procession by the Raghuwanshi community. The heated argument took place around 11 am and the alleged call was given to gather at Talab chowk at 3 pm.

With posters of recently released Anupam Kher’s film The Kashmir Files with a catchphrase ‘JagoHinduoJao’, crowdsbegan pouring in at Talab Chowk under the banner of Gauraksha Samiti.

Town inspector of Kotwali police station BL Mandloi who received a severe head injury in the clash near Talab Chowk, explained, “The procession was asked to leave between 2-3 pm but it got delayed until 5 pm and clashed with evening prayers at the mosque. It was around that time that a crowd of over 1,000 people assembled in procession outside the Talab chowk mosque after which the situation grew tense and stone-pelting began soon.”

When the police resorted to a lathi charge and fired tear gas shells, the mob fanned out to the narrow lanes of Qazipura, Sanjay Nagar, Anand Nagar, Bhausar Mohalla, Khaskhaswadi and Tavdi Mohalla near Talab Chowk.

The next morning the first thing the locals saw were humongous bulldozers stationed menacingly near their houses and shops.

One cannot be sure if the locals heard state home minister Narottam Mishra’swarning issued a few hours earlier that “Jisghar se patharaaehai, us ghar ko hi patharokaadherbanadenge” (We will convert the houses from where stones were pelted into heaps of stones). Mishra has told reporters this in the April 11 morning. Soon the bulldozers came grinding down.

Over 50 properties have been demolished according to various media reports. As many as four houses and three shops near Mohan Talkies, 12 houses and 10 shops in Khaskhas Badi area, three shops in Aurangpura area and 12 shops in Talaab Chowk were demolished.

The district administration has said that the houses and shops that have been demolished were “illegal” and the operation has nothing to do with the communal violence.

Interestingly, among the properties demolished in Khaskhaswadi area is the house of Haseena Fakhru, a widow, and her 35-year-old son Amjad Khan, that was built under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana. Sceptics have raised questions over the administration’s “illegal properties demolished” handout and asked how could a house built under a government scheme be illegal.

Under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, an amount of Rs 2.50 lakh is given in three instalments to a beneficiary to build a house.This amount is sanctioned only after the Lekhpal gives a report that there is no dispute on that land. Surveyors have also been kept for all the investigations in this regard. Their ‘no-objection’ report is also mandatory for the approval.

Later, if it is proved that the said land was disputed, then action can taken against both the surveyor and the Lekhpal.

If this house was “illegal”, then the question is if any action has been taken against the Lekhpal and the Surveyor or not.

It may be a coincidence, or may be not, that the Prevention of Damage to Public and Private Property and Recovery of Damages Bill 2021 was passed in Madhya Pradesh in December last year without a discussion. Through it, tribunals could recover up to twice the cost of alleged damage.

Even this bill prescribes a due procedure for action. Several aggrieved in this case said they had to face demolition without any prior notice. “Six months ago, the Municipal Corporation measured the area but no notices were issued. But a day after the incident, when the city was under the strict curfew, over eight shops which were part of the mosque were razed,” said Hidayatullah Mansuri, chief of Masjid committee who had a shop there.

Among 12 shops which were demolished one belonged to Narendra Sureshchand Gupta who had been running the kirana store there for the last two decades. “I was on rent there. Without any notice or prior verbal information, our shops were demolished. I somehow managed to empty the shop but many of my fellow shopkeepers were unlucky,” said Gupta.

“Is there any law left in this country or the government is willing to bulldoze everything for their gain?” Gupta lamented.

Interestingly, the district administration which has been demolishing the shops and houses terming it “illegal” says that the drive has nothing to do with the communal clashes. But a Tweet from Khargone Jansampark office claims that those houses belonged to the rioters.

Accusing police and district administration for one sided action, Altaf Azad, a social worker from Khargone said, “All the shops, eateries and homes which have been demolished in the last two days belong to the minority community. Out of 121 arrests only six were belong to majority community. Over 35 FIRs have been registered but only seven from the Muslim community.”

Disturbed with the news of demolition of homes, ShaharQazi of Bhopal, Mushtaq Ali Nadvi, met with home minister Mishra and submitted a memorandum.

Urging not to make the people homeless, the memorandum demanded relaxation in curfew owing to the ongoing Ramzan.

Many people believe the violence broke out as the administration did not make any effort to prevent it. When the youths of both the sides had a fight at 11 am during the preparations for Ram Navami procession, the administration should have become active at that time. When it was clear that there was a possibility of a ruckus on the issue of taking the procession through the new route, then precaution should have been taken in advance.

The violence started from the same place where there has been a disturbance 5-7 times in the last few years, yet the senior officersdeemed it right to leave the security to a handful of police personnel.

Former Madhya Pradesh chief minister and senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh termed it a failure of the administration.

“[Former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh] Pandit Dwarka Prasad Mishra used to tell me that riots cannot take place as long as the chief minister does not want it. I became CM after the Babri Masjid demolition. Why did no riots break out until 2003? Because I arrested those who tried to incite communal tensions,”Digvijaya Singh said while addressing the media.

Calling the incident a failure of administration, the former CM said, “What is happening today is a failure of the administration. Communal tension is the biggest weapon of the BJP government. They make political use of it to create divides between Hindus and Muslims.”

“It should be investigated where the stones came from? Who pelted it? Why was the route changed? Stone pelting at five places at the same time should all be investigated,” Singh further said.

Madhya Pradesh Police on Tuesday registered an FIR against Digvijaya Singh for allegedly conspiring to instigate communal violence by posting misleading tweets.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is said to have taken inspiration from his counterpart in Uttar Pradesh who has earned himself the moniker of “Bulldozer Baba”.

Again, Mama’s bulldozer too seems to be targeting a particular community only.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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