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How a 'Muslim hater' failed to instigate a communal riot in Malerkotla

Aditya Menon | Updated on: 30 June 2016, 1:21 IST
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The incident
  • Vijay Kumar, a Hindu radical, tried to instigate a communal riot in Punjab\'s Malerkotla by burning the Holy Quran on 24 June
  • One of his accomplices, Nand Kishore Goldy, is the VHP\'s general secretary in Punjab
The region
  • Malerkotla is Punjab\'s only Muslim-majority region, but has a history of peace
  • Even during the 1947 partition violence, the city remained largely incident-free
More in the story
  • The politics of the area and who controls it
  • Local AAP MP Bhagwant Mann\'s appeal to the people

Vijay Kumar, a self-styled Hindu radical, allegedly tried to instigate a communal riot in Punjab's Malerkotla by burning the Holy Quran on the night of 24 June. One of his alleged accomplices, Nand Kishore Goldy, happens to be the general secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's Punjab unit.

According to the police, their aim was to "avenge" the terror attacks in Gurdaspur in July last year and Pathankot in January this year.

Originally from Jind in Haryana, he is said to have gone to Canada for a while. He currently runs a reasonably successful bio-fertiliser business in Delhi.

Three people, including a VHP leader, tried to instigate a riot in Malerkotla by burning the Quran last week

"Vijay is a self-styled radical activist not affiliated with any Hindu group," Patiala range Inspector General of Police Paramraj Singh Umranangal told the media.

"In custody, he is talking nonsense such as Muslims are going to overpower India and their population is going to explode. He even administers a Pakistan-bashing WhatsApp group."

He is also said to have tried to instigate violence in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, using similar methods.

The police has arrested two other men - Nand Kishore Goldy and his son Gaurav - reportedly Vijay's accomplices. They hail from Taragarh near Pathankot.

The VHP held a press conference on Wednesday and admitted that Goldy is the general secretary of their Punjab unit. They claim that he is being framed in this case. A BJP MLA Seema Kumari has also come out in his support.

Goldy's son Gaurav is an employee of Vijay Kumar.

Did they succeed?

After the desecration of the Quran on the night of 24 June, Muslim mobs damaged a dozen odd vehicles and tried to vandalise the house of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) legislator Farzana Nesara Khatoon.

However, locals say that Hindu and Sikh shops and houses weren't targeted, and that the anger was directed more at the administration.

"The Muslims were angry at the burning of their holy book. But they didn't go after other communities. Their target was the police and the civil administration," said businessman Gagandeep Singh.

"If they wanted to attack Sikhs and Hindus, why would they try to burn down the house of a Muslim leader (Khatoon)?"

A history of peace

Malerkotla is the only Muslim-majority area in Punjab. Muslims constitute over 60% of the population, with Hindus and Sikhs comprising the rest. There is a small presence of Jains and Christians as well.

The people of Malerkotla of all the communities are proud of the fact that the city has had a long history of communal harmony.

Legend has it that the town had been blessed by Guru Gobind Singh. It is believed that when the governor of Sirhind, Wazir Khan, ordered the sons of the Guru be bricked alive, the Nawab of Malerkotla, Sher Mohammad Khan, said this was against the tenets of Islam and walked out in protest. Guru Gobind Singh heard about this, and in return, blessed the Nawab and his city.

Malerkotla, Punjab's only Muslim-majority area, remained untouched by the violence during partition

Malerkotla miraculously remained untouched by the ghastly violence that engulfed the whole of Punjab during the partition in 1947. In fact, the Muslim majority of Malerkotla was also preserved because a comparatively small number of people migrated to West Punjab from here.

The city has been free from communal riots since independence. There have, however, been occasional incidents of vandalism.

For instance, after the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992, a temple and a Jain hall were attacked. In 2013, a church was attacked in response to the desecration of the Quran in the US.

But in most of these cases, community leaders got together and prevented the violence from escalating.

Political turmoil

Apparently, a group of people had gone to Khatoon's house to complain about the desecration of the Quran, but they were turned away. A mob soon gathered which turned violent and attacked the MLA's house.

Many believe that the 24 June violence, particularly the attack on Khatoon's house, is the result of anger against the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP regime.

As it is, there is widespread resentment against the government across Punjab, and Malerkotla is no exception to this. In Malerkotla, there is an added element - Muslim anger against the Narendra Modi government at the Centre.

Interestingly, politics in the city has been dominated by two senior police officers -- former DGP Mohammad Izhar Alam and Mohammad Mustafa, who is presently a DGP rank officer in the Punjab Police.

Alam is with the Akali Dal and is the husband of the sitting MLA. An effective but controversial officer, he is famous for creating the Alam Sena during the peak of the Khalistan movement. The Sena, which comprised police personnel loyal to Alam and some surrendered militants, was accused of carrying out encounters on a large scale.

Apparently, while contesting elections, his wife had to avoid using Alam in her name, so as not to evoke memories of the Alam Sena among Sikh voters. Hence, she used her maiden name Farzana Nesara Khatoon instead of Farzana Alam.

Mohammad Mustafa's wife Razia Sultana won the seat on a Congress ticket in 2002 and 2007, but lost to Khatoon in 2012.

Malerkotla's politics is dominated by two cops - the retired Mohd Izhar Alam and Mohd Mustafa

Alam and Sultana are blaming each other for the violence. But supporters of both are taking credit for the quick action by the Punjab police in nabbing the suspects behind the Quran desecration.

Adding to the mix is the rising popularity of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). During the 2014 general elections, AAP polled 52% of the votes in Malerkotla, which falls in the Sangrur Lok Sabha constituency, well ahead of the SAD and Congress, which got 25% and 17% votes respectively.

The party is confident of winning the seat in next year's Assembly elections. However, after the recent violence, it is afraid that a communal polarisation could lead to Muslim consolidation behind the Congress, and a Hindu-Sikh consolidation behind the SAD-BJP combine.

The AAP MP from Sangrur, Bhagwant Mann, was in Malerkotla on 26 June. Besides making an impassioned appeal for communal harmony, Mann also hinted that there were political motives behind the violence.

"They want to break your unity and brotherhood. Please don't let that happen," he said, attacking the SAD-BJP without naming them.

"There is a gurudwara here and a mosque there. This is Malerkotla. We have to preserve the harmony here."

Reaching out to the Muslim community in particular, he said, "Only Arvind Kejriwal takes on Narendra Modi. Congress does nothing...Will they (BJP) tell us what we should eat? Will they tell us whether we should listen to Ghulam Ali or not, whether we should listen to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan or not?" he asked.

Vijay and his accomplices may have failed to instigate a riot in Malerkotla, but the political tussle in the city has just begun.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 30 June 2016, 1:21 IST
 
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