http://indianexpress.com/The Indian Express
Mumbai ‘touch-and-go’ situation kept cops on toes
Written by Zeeshan Shaikh | Mumbai | Posted: January 6, 2015 1:19 am | Updated: January 6, 2015 1:30 am
Hours after a riot broke out in central Mumbai on Sunday night during the Eid-e-Milad procession, a somewhat rattled state administration admitted that the communal conflagration could have escalated rapidly. While Mumbai Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria denied that there was any larger conspiracy, senior ministers said the government had been told that simultaneous communal incidents could have broken out at multiple locations across Mumbai.
Maria himself said it had been a “touch-and-go” situation.
“We treated the incident like a communal one. The entire city was put on alert. It was touch-and-go on Sunday night,” said Maria.
On Monday morning, while some of the affected areas, including the Shiv Sena-dominated Lalbaug and Parel and the Muslim-dominated Byculla, remained tense and shopkeepers chose to start business slowly and warily, the police briefed Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.
Revenue Minister Eknath Khadse confirmed that the police’s assessment was a serious one: “Some miscreants were out to disturb Mumbai’s communal harmony.”
Maria said the police, apart from ensuring bandobast across the city within minutes of the first incident breaking out in Lalbaug, had to ensure that rumour mongering did not cause further outbreaks of violence elsewhere. “Besides on the ground, our biggest fight was also on social media to counter rumour mongers. We sent out text messages to stay on top of the situation,” Maria told The Indian Express.
The Eid-e-Milad procession, starting from Khilafat House in south Mumbai, is an annual affair in Mumbai. The first such procession had been led by Mahatma Gandhi himself, during the Khilafat movement. The day marks the birthday of Prophet Mohammed and is largely celebrated by Sunni Barelvi Muslims, identified as being more syncretic within the community.
Incidentally, the lead-up to the event this year saw rising calls from clerics that the community should be restrained during the final juloos and that there should be low noise levels during the celebrations. The excessive use of floats, blaring loud music and the disregard for traffic rules during such processions has been a cause for concern within the community.
According to eyewitnesses, the first incident took place at 6.30 pm, when a motorbike that was part of the procession and was being driven rashly brushed against a woman near the Lalbaug market. The bikers were roughed up by an irate crowd. Around two hours later, the bikers, who were allegedly driving on the wrong side of the road, fled after being stopped by a mob at Bharat Mata cinema junction in Lalbaug. Eyewitnesses said that a mob then got together at the junction and began to stop and assault any motorbikers wearing skull caps or bearing flags.
Simultaneously, community members also say young Muslims in Mumbai, feeling increasingly cornered in recent months, are displaying a rising trend of wearing their identity on their sleeves. Sarfaraz Arzu, vice-chairman of the All India Khilafat Committee which organises the procession every year, said the organisers had requested participants to be at their best behaviour. “But when you are in a holiday mood, your behaviour also seems to take a holiday — this is a universal principle which is evident in Holi and Ganpati festivals as well,” Arzu said.
Maria said apart from the Lalbaug stretch, which was the only area affected by clashes, and a vehicle that caught fire in Worli, no other incidents were reported. Maria himself was overseeing bandobast in the city till early Monday.
With Rohit Alok
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