Tensions in Aurangabad after clashes between two groups on Ram Navami

Police vehicles torched in violence; CM Shinde says situation under control; Opposition MVA accuses Shinde-Fadnavis govt. of fomenting communal riots

March 30, 2023 09:56 pm | Updated 09:56 pm IST - Pune

A riot-like situation prevailed in Sambhajinagar city (formerly Aurangabad) of Maharashtra in the wee hours of Thursday following clashes between two groups, with a number of police vehicles torched during the incident.

The incident, which took place in the city’s Kiradpura locality on the occasion of Ram Navami and ahead of the Opposition Maha Vikas Aghadi’s (MVA) planned rally on April 2, sparked a blame game between the Opposition – Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray), the NCP, and the Congress – and the ruling Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government.

According to the police, the clashes between the groups happened between 12:20 a.m. and 1 a.m. on Thursday when a group of bikers, passing through the Kiradpura area, raised slogans that reportedly provoked the other group. Heated arguments soon snowballed into full-blown violence, with stone-pelting and vandalism in tow.

According to the police, around 15 vehicles (including some private ones) were set on fire and pelted with stones. The personnel had to resort to lathi-charges and tear gas to bring the situation under control – a task achieved after nearly three hours since the clashes began.

Authorities said that a case of rioting, arson and destruction of public property had been booked against more than 400 unidentified persons and that the police had formed nine-ten teams to nab the miscreants.

While Chief Minister Eknath Shinde said that he had spoken with senior police authorities and that the “situation was fully under control” and appealed to all parties and communities to show restraint, Sena (UBT) leaders Sanjay Raut and Ambadas Danve accused the ruling government of deliberately trying to stoke communal riots.

In response, Deputy Chief Minister and State Home Minister Devendra Fadnavis said no leader or party should attempt to give the Sambhajinagar incident any political colour.

“Even as the police have got the situation under control, some leaders [alluding to Opposition MVA and especially Thackeray-led Sena] are deliberately trying to deteriorate the situation further by making inflammatory statements for their selfish political ends. They must stop this. It signifies their political immaturity. No one should attempt to give the Sambhajinagar incident a political colour,” Mr. Fadnavis said.

Peace committee formed

Following the incident, the Aurangabad administration held a meeting of all senior personnel as well as representatives of all major political parties, who constituted a ‘peace committee’ to prevent any recrudescence of violence during the ongoing festive season.

“The Aurangabad clashes is a failure of the Shinde-Fadnavis government. This government is working to ensure that there are riots in the State and a situation of communal disharmony prevails. The Shinde group is working towards this. This government has only one intention, that is to create disturbance in the State and to ensure that riots take place,” alleged Mr. Raut, while remarking that Mr. Fadnavis’ Home Ministry appeared “invisible” all throughout the incident.

Uddhav camp loyalist Ambadas Danve, Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Council, hit out at Mr. Fadnavis’ charge that Opposition leaders were trying to worsen the situation with “inflammatory” statements.

“First, you [BJP-Shinde group] start a fight between two communities and then blame us, the Opposition,” said Mr. Danve.

Communal tension

Senior NCP leader and Leader of Opposition (LoP) in the Assembly Ajit Pawar questioned whether the clashes were a ploy to deepen divisions between two religious communities and stoke riots, while Maharashtra Congress chief Nana Patole expressed certainty that the ruling BJP was trying to “fan the fumes of communal tensions.”

Meanwhile, former Aurangabad MP and Sena (UBT) leader Chandrakant Khaire, while dubbing Mr. Fadnavis as the “main person” behind the clashes, accused both the BJP and the Asaduddin Owaisi-led AIMIM (which has a strong presence in Aurangabad) of playing “a game” to rupture the peace and prevent the MVA from holding their rally on April 2.

Responding to Mr. Khaire, present Aurangabad MP and AIMIM leader Imtiaz Jaleel said that this was not the time for politicians and parties to trade allegations and counter-allegations.

Mr. Jaleel further said he rushed to the spot of the clashes and was on hand throughout the night to prevent the situation from deteriorating further.

“All during the clashes, I was sitting inside the Ram Mandir [at Kiradpura] well aware that today is Ram Navami. I did my best to localise the violence and prevent anything untoward from happening to the temple. I have been asking why the police did not present itself earlier?” Mr. Jaleel said, while demanding a stern probe against miscreants.

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