With the death toll in riot hit in Muzaffarnagar nearing the 50 mark — the official count is 35 — Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has been quick to blame the violence on a political conspiracy to destabilise his government. But The Indian Express, after spending four days on the ground with riot hit villagers, community leaders, police and administration officials, found specific examples that show delay, inaction and failure at several levels of the administration right up to the top.
A day after the riots began on September 7, it was not Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, but his father and samajwadi party chief Mulayam Simgh Yadav who called an emergency meeting. This meeting hardly helped matters. No action was taken after a Jat mahapanchayat was called that afternoon as a response to the killing. By that night, at least 11 deaths had already been reported.
On August 27, the day the first sparks flew in Kawaal village, police inaction was clear. Two young men, Gaurav and Sachin, killed one Shahnawaz after a petty quarrel. Both were lynched by angry residents of the village. “The assault went on for at least 30 minutes. There’s a police outpost less than a kilometre from the scene of the crime no policeman showed up for one full hour, said Ramesh Chandra, a resident of Kawaal.
Hours after this incident, SSP of Muzaffarnagar — under which Kawaal falls — Manzil Saini and District Magistrate Surender Singh were transferred. Their replacements took time to settle in, losing precious time in dealing with the situation. This, many say, created an administrative vacuum of sorts. “They were new to the district and there are several other things that need attention. The former SSP and DM knew the lay of the land. On August 27, no violence had taken place. It was only a localised incident that could have been handled differently. These knee-jerk transfers do not serve any purpose,” said a senior police officer who did not wish to be named. Muzaffanaga iots: 4 bjp MLA’s and cong leaders booked for inciting mob.
Jat mahapanchayats, in which people were egging each other to attack Muslims, took place twice — once on August 31 and again on September 7. “This was total failure of the district administration. There was no permission to hold the mahapanchayats yet these were not stopped. It was the inflammatory speeches at the September 7 mahapanchayat, where thousands had turned up, that stoked the fires,” admits Yashpal Singh, a resident of Sakheda village. He added that there were two smaller gatherings earlier in different villages — the first on August 28 and the second on September 4.
A similar gathering of Muslims was allowed to take place in Muzaffarnagar city on August 29 despite Section 144 being in place. “After we learnt that Jat gatherings were being held and inflammatory speeches were being made, we gathered at the collectorate and submitted a memorandum to the DM. A protest was also held outside the building,” Shahdab from Muzaffarnagar said. But this was construed by Jats as a show of strength by the Muslims prompting them to call the first mahapanchayat.
Through September 7-8, no clear plan of action was drawn by the district police and paramilitary forces to stop the spread of violence. “Though paramilitary and police forces were in place, it was a purely reactive operation. For instance, an entire PAC company on Sunday was sent to Bhorakalan village but had to turn back midway when information came that the situation in Bhavda was worse. Time was wasted and the situation in both villages took a turn for the worse,” a senior police officer said.
As law and order broke down, hundreds fled villages — including Bhorakalan and Bhavda — and took refuge in police stations. “The police reached our village two hours after the attack on the village started. By then the masjid had been torched and we feared for our lives. Our only option was to go to the police and seek protection,” Sadakat Ali of Kutba village said.
Insar Vakeel was picked up by Jats from Shahpur and taken to their mahapanchayat at Sakheda village some 20 km away as a “prized catch”. He was killed while trying to escape, beaten to death barely 50 metres from a police station. His abductors had, in fact, gone past several police checkposts.
In many areas, there was no local back-up. Security forces found it hard to negotiate their way to trouble spots. When ADG (Law and Order) Arun Kumar toured the riot-hit villages on Sunday, the convoy of 20 vehicles was forced to double back several times since nobody knew the right direction.
Barring one incident of firing on security personnel in a village on Sunda, no other attack on police forces took place in the last three days. This has led to allegations that the police were playing safe, not getting in the way of rioters.