BHUBANESWAR/BHADRAK: Utter lawlessness prevailed in Bhadrak town as communal tension went out of control despite imposition of curfew on Friday. Hundreds of shops were set on fire and roads were blocked as the local administration failed to arrest the flare-up which was simmering between the two communities since Thursday.
With the peace committee meeting remaining inconclusive earlier in the day, the two community members confronted each other. Processions were taken out in gross violation of prohibitory orders as police watched as a mute spectator. OT Market, Town Hall and Bonth Squares and Puruna Bazar areas were among the worst affected while insufficient police force proved a major handicap for the administration.
As the situation deteriorated, a clueless State Government hurriedly posted Cuttack Municipal Commissioner Gyana Ranjan Das as the new Collector. The district has virtually been headless since March 31 and the ADM was in-charge. Das has been asked to take charge immediately.
Home Secretary Asit Tripathy, DGP KB Singh and ADG (Law and Order) Binayanand Jha rushed to Bhadrak to take stock of the situation. Prohibitory orders were imposed in neighbouring Dhamnagar town too. Union Minister Krishan Pal Gurjar’s proposed visit to Bhadrak on Saturday for party work ahead of BJP’s national executive meeting was also cancelled.
So far, no incident of bloodshed was reported although rioters went on a looting spree. DGP Singh said police were keeping a close watch and efforts were being made to restore peace and normalcy. By night, 32 rioters were arrested. Just about 24 platoon force were deployed in the town and its neighbourhood while more was being mobilised to strengthen patrolling.
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who had left for a five-day visit to Delhi earlier in the day, appealed for peace in the district. He also said strong action would be taken against any attempt to promote disharmony. Union Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan and a host of other leaders also appealed for peace.
While an uneasy calm prevailed in the town this morning, the situation turned worse after the peace committee failed to make any breakthrough. Soon after, members of a particular community, who were present in the meeting, took out a procession making objectionable remarks.
All this happened even when prohibitory orders were still clamped in the town. Why the local police allowed the procession was beyond logic.
The other community responded by road blockade at Medical Square and clashed with police when the latter tried to disperse the mob. The agitators pelted stones at the cops and damaged police vehicles. They also questioned the intention of the police behind allowing members of the other community to take out the procession despite clamping of Section 144 in the town. Roads were also blocked at High School, Town Hall, Bonth and Akhandalamani squares. A major part of the arson took place right in front of the SP’s office.
By evening, the situation had spiraled out of control as many shops were set on fire by the two communities. The fire fighters were not allowed to douse the flames by the protestors which only aggravated the situation. The National Highway 16 was paralysed with vehicular movement coming to a complete halt. This even delayed mobilisation of police.
The town wore a deserted look with people remaining indoors due to the prohibitory orders. Although government offices remained open, they wore an empty look. Schools and business establishments remained closed. Earlier in the day, the peace committee meeting was attended by IG (Eastern Range) Ghanshyam Upadhaya, ADM Pravat Bhoi, local MLA Jugal Kishore Pattanaik and leaders of both the communities. Abdul Bari, president of Bhadrak Muslim Jamat, in a statement, condemned the alleged remarks on Lord Ram and demanded action against the culprits. However, the meeting ended with no result.
On Thursday, objectionable remarks on Lord Ram and other Hindu deities on social media had gone viral triggering locals to damage shops. Subsequently, police clamped 144 CrPC in the town.