Timely and deft intervention by BJP's Yashwant Sinha helped prevent a minor incident turning into a major communal riot in his parliamentary constituency of Hazaribagh on 26 January. Hazaribagh, a communally sensitive town in Jharkhand, witnessed a riot in 1989.
Trouble began on 25 January evening, a day before Republic Day, when some people from the minority community found an 11-year-old Hindu child holding a damaged bunting, apparently used during a procession to mark Milad-un-Nabi earlier that day. He had picked it up from a drain in Kheergaon locality of the town, about 100 km from state capital Ranchi. Members of the minority community concluded that it was an insult to them and therefore surrounded this Hindu locality.
Recalling the incident, Sinha told The Sunday Guardian that the local police caught the child and his friend, who was 13 years old, and took them to the local Sadar police station. "However, after intervention by some local BJP leaders, the two were released late in the night," he said.
On the morning of Republic Day, tension started mounting in Kheergaon. As the minorities came to know that the children had been released from the police station, they came out in large numbers and blocked the busy Hazaribagh-Chatra Road. One Hindu youth, about 22, who was returning home after performing some puja at a nearby temple, and had a tilak on his forehead, faced the wrath of the agitators. He was badly beaten up, and got a serious head injury. He had to be shifted to Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) in Ranchi for better treatment.
Sinha, after hoisting the Tricolour at his party office, decided to visit Kheergaon and unfurl the flag at the Chowk, which is the heart of the troubled locality. He reached there at 10.45 a.m., but was shocked to see that Kheergaon had turned into a battlefield. A large number of people were on the roads, many were standing on the roof. People were pelting stones and bricks from everywhere. Some of them were even carrying lathis and swords.
"Amidst this melee, we went ahead with our programme of flag hoisting. Thankfully, there was no disruption in this process. However, soon after that brickbats restarted from both sides. I was advised by my security men to leave the area. But being a representative of the constituency, I thought I had the duty to pacify the crowd. I told the crowd, 'Agar humko marna hai to maro, par pahle ghar ke andar jao (If you want to kill me, do that. But first go inside your houses'," said the BJP leader.
An eyewitness, Bansidhar Rukhaiyar said, "Mr Sinha explained to the crowd how a minor incident was getting aggravated because of misunderstanding. He even scolded the trouble makers. Being a former administrative officer, he knows how to tackle such situations. He boldly faced the situation, that too along with his wife, who accompanied him to the troubled spot."
Sinha's intervention had a positive impact. After some time the crowd melted away. By that time more security forces had come, along with their water cannon. Then it was the turn of Hazaribagh deputy commissioner Manish Ranjan and SP Manoj Kaushik to take charge. Later in the evening, a peace committee meeting was organised at the Sadar police station in which the members called upon the people not to listen to mischief mongers and help restore normalcy. The situation came under control in the next two days.
"The situation could have gone out of control if Mr Sinha had not acted swiftly and boldly," said Rukhaiyar. The police has lodged cases against 40 persons from both communities. However, Sinha said, "I will be going to Hazaribagh next week and ensure that all the cases are lifted in order to facilitate peace in the city.