Today's Paper

140 killed as Gujarat bandh turns violent

AHMEDABAD, FEB. 28. At least 140 people were killed, 60 of them burnt alive in two housing colonies here today, as mob frenzy reached its crescendo during the ``Gujarat bandh'' called by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and supported by the ruling BJP in protest against Wednesday's torching of the Sabarmati Express.

At least 30 others were killed in police firing, stabbing and other incidents in different parts of the city while the casualty in other cities and towns in the State was put at over 50.

Shops and business establishments belonging to Muslims were targeted by mobs. About 40 were feared killed when 15 houses in ``Gulmarg'' Society in Meghaninagar locality here were set afire. At least 20 people were feared trapped in a building set ablaze in Naroda industrial area.

Among the deceased in the Gulmarg Society carnage was the former Congress member of the Lok Sabha, Ehsan Jafri, and his entire family. The Home Secretary, K. Nityanandam, confirmed the torching of the Gulmarg Society, but said he was not sure if Mr. Jafri was among the victims.

Police have recovered some 20 bodies from the Society and at least 15 more are believed to be inside the burning houses. At Naroda, efforts are being made to put off the fire before the recovery of bodies could start.

The authorities said the toll in the day's orgy of violence in Ahmedabad alone could be at least 90. The number of cases of looting and arson, particularly of the minority shops and business establishments, was officially put at 118 in Ahmedabad but the authorities admitted that they had lost count.

The authorities, for obvious reasons, refused to confirm the burning of a mosque in Surat city, the attack on the Islamic Study Centre in Baroda and the torching of the Waqf Board office in the old secretariat building in Gandhinagar. But eyewitness accounts confirmed the incidents.

The Army units, frantically called by the Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, as the situation seemed to slip out of hand, started arriving in Ahmedabad and are likely to be deployed in the city on Friday.

At least five people were killed in Viramgam and four in Baroda where the house of a leading Muslim social activist was attacked. Six were killed in Derol town near Godhra. Till evening, police fired 46 rounds in Ahmedabad, in which at least 10 persons were believed to have been killed. The toll in the torching of the Sabarmati Express, meanwhile, had risen to 58 with the recovery of the body of a child late last night.

An indefinite curfew has been clamped in 26 cities and towns in the State, including parts of Ahmedabad, Surat, Baroda, Rajkot, Nadiad, Anand and Kaira in addition to the indefinite curfew in force in Godhra since Wednesday. The skyline of Ahmedabad and Baroda was filled with black smoke emanating from the burnt shops and cabins, discarded tyres to create road blockades as well as dozens of State road transport and city municipal service buses set afire by the miscreants.

For the first time in many years, the response to the bandh call was almost total in all cities with not even a single shop or roadside cabin, petrol pump or commercial establishment open. Hooligans forced the closure of most of the State and Central Government offices in Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar and other cities. All schools and colleges, cinemas and other establishments remained closed. Even the cable television operators, ``under instructions'' from the VHP, were forced to suspend telecast of all entertainment and sports channels, allowing only the news channels to function during the day.

The hooligans indulging in looting and arson had a field day with police either conspicuous by their absence or, outnumbered by the attackers, looking the other way. Journalists and cameramen were also attacked at many places and their equipment damaged.

It was also perhaps for the first time that the capital city of Gandhinagar witnessed violence with groups of people attacking even the old secretariat building housing the offices of many of the State Government-owned boards.

Several minority places of worship were made the specific target of the attacks. In Ahmedabad, a mausoleum in the middle of a road in Shahibagh locality, barely a few metres from the office of the city police commissioner was razed to the ground by the hooligans with the police vehicles passing by but refusing to intervene.

Mr. Modi, who described the train attack as a ``terrorist-type'' action, said the Government had ordered a judicial inquiry. by a retired judge of the Gujarat High Court. Mr. Modi said 80 people, including two local councillors of Godhra who were believed to be involved in the train attack and the owners of the two petrol pumps suspected to have supplied fuel to the attackers, had been arrested. Both the pumps have been sealed, he said and added that the Government would not hesitate to invoke POTO or the Prevention of Anti- Social Activities Act (PASA) against the Godhra attackers.