The removal of Jodhpur Rural Superintendent of Police Sharat Kaviraj following police firing on rioters in which one person was killed at Balesar village in Rajasthan recently has led to sharp divisions between the State Government and Muslim groups here, with the latter accusing the Government of bowing to pressure from the dominant Mali community.

Mr. Kaviraj was shifted on May 22 and asked to report at the State Police Headquarters here till his new posting orders after a communal flare-up at Balesar, in which Malis demolished a 100-year-old Idgah and torched houses and shops of Muslims. When the police opened fire to disperse the violent mob, one person was killed and eight injured. While the Congress-led Government on Friday described the SP's removal as “routine procedure”, the Rajasthan Muslim Forum said the move had sent across a message that upright officers defending the lives and properties of minorities would have to “face the music”. It alleged that the ruling Congress was shielding the culprits behind the violence with none of them arrested so far.

A spokesperson of the Chief Minister's Office said the transfer of officers “out of administrative necessity” to reduce tension between two groups following a dispute was a routine affair in the State. “Officers have been removed in similar circumstances in the past too,” said the spokesperson.

The Muslim Forum, describing this logic as bizarre, said Mr. Kaviraj should instead have been rewarded for dispersing the rioters and preventing large-scale killing of Muslims hiding in their houses. “Police firing alone brought the situation under control and prevented the spread of violence to other areas,” said Forum member Mohammed Salim.

Mr. Kaviraj, contacted by The Hindu in Jaipur, said the decision on his removal was taken late on May 22 night after “some groups with vested interests” delayed post-mortem of the victim, Jaipar Ram, and made his shifting a prestige issue and a precondition for restoring normality.

“The State Government in its wisdom removed me to avert a crisis situation,” said Mr. Kaviraj, adding that no one in the Police Department had shifted the blame to him for the firing.

Defending the police firing – ordered in consultation with the Sub-Divisional Magistrate present on the spot – Mr. Kaviraj said the violent crowd had attacked the police force and was trying to storm into a nearby mosque after demolishing the Idgah and setting the shops on fire. Lathi-charge, tear-gas and firing in the air were resorted to before the direct firing.

The young IPS officer said Jaipar Ram was at the side of the crowd from where the heaviest stone-throwing was coming. “Jaipar Ram was definitely not a bystander,” he said and added that the police force saw men armed with swords and later seized one from them.

“Had we not opened fire on the crowd, the condition of Muslims would have been precarious and their other localities too could have been attacked. The riots would have had wider ramifications not just in Balesar and elsewhere in Jodhpur district but probably all over Rajasthan,” he said.