The green-and-white “Law and Order, Do Not Disturb” sign flapping outside the gates of the city’s Azad Maidan could not have been more ironical as Maximum City was brought to the edge of a full-scale riot on Saturday by a group of violent agitators ostensibly demonstrating against atrocities inflicted on Muslims in Assam and Myanmar.
Thousands of people thronged the demonstration, which commenced at high noon and was organised by the Raza Academy – a Sunni Islamic group that claims to represent the interests of the city’s Muslims – and several other Muslim bodies.
At 3:15 p.m., following the closing speeches of a maulvi, the meeting inexplicably exploded into an orgy of wanton vandalism and arbitrary violence. A mob, which gathered outside the gates, started pummelling media and police personnel, destroying cameras and equipment.
The scale of violence steadily peaked and continued to grip the area around the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus for a full half hour, as police and media vehicles were set ablaze and Municipal Corporation buses were smashed to smithereens.
Two people lay dead while 54 people, including more than 40 policemen were badly injured.
But even as questions fly thick and fast in the aftermath of the violence and the police’s preparedness to combat it, the Raza Academy and other Muslim groups in the city tendered an unconditional apology to the police, the media and people on Sunday.
“What happened was shameful. The agitators had nothing to do with the academy…They appear to be people from outside. This is a most un-Islamic manner of registering a protest. We ask the people of this city to forgive us,” founder of the Raza Academy Mohammed Saeed Noori told The Hindu.
Ex-policeman Shamsher Khan Pathan, who recently floated the Awami Vikas Party (AVP) said the violence clearly was instigated by a section of outsiders. The AVP was one of the bodies that took part in the agitation.
Groups and leaders further refuted suggestions that the mobs were incensed and targeted the media owing to “lack of coverage of the Assam riots and the violence against Muslims in Burma” – one of the theories bandied about in the immediate aftermath of the attack.
“The inflammatory speeches, which provoked the outrage against the media personnel, were only targeted at the UPA-II government’s handling of the Assam riots. Only one maulvi said the media had under-reported events. Now, this is no reason to provoke a riot,” said Mr. Pathan.
Most of the minority groups have condemned this incident. The first order of the day is to restore peace. Most of the agitators were in the 18-25 year age group. A time-bound inquiry would reveal everything, said Arif Naseem Khan, Guardian Minister (Mumbai suburbs).
Meanwhile, headlines, declaiming a “Jihad being called by hardliner Muslims in Mumbai” were splashed across Saamna – mouthpiece of the Shiv Sena.
The BJP has demanded the resignation of Home Minister R.R. Patil and the Police Commissioner, accusing them of handling the riot-like situation in “a most inept manner.”