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November 2008
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Communal Riots: Is it Political or Economic Agenda?
By M. Hanif Lakdawala
There are places in many markets where only Muslim business premises are looted first and later burnt.

First Thane, then Dule, Aurangabad and Parbhani, these places witnessed communal tension followed by riots leading to loss of life and properties mainly Muslims. Why are communal riots instigated in these places? Is it political or economic agenda? Visiting the riot affected places and talking to people, it is obvious that undoubtedly it is political agenda which deliberately triggers the riots.

Let’s take Thane first. After de-limitation exercise recently, the number of seats here has gone up. Thane has become a crucial battle ground as Thane district will now have four Parliamentary and 24 Assembly seats instead of one Parliamentary seat and 13 Assembly segments. Out of the 13 Assembly seats, NCP had won 5, Shiv Sena 3, BJP 2, and RPI, Independents and CPM one each in the last election.

All political parties want to firm up their hold in the district to consolidate for the bigger battle in the assembly elections due in 2009. The seats in Thane in the redrawn political map of Maharashtra could play a key role in deciding who comes to power in the state.

Recognising the importance of this district, the Nationalist Congress Party summoned the rival factions in the district led by Jitendra Avhad, MLC, and Vasant Davkhare, deputy chairperson of the legislative council and asked them to bury their differences.

In a quick move, NCP appointed Avhad, a prominent member of the backward castes, as district president of the party and asked him to accommodate Davkhare’s men in his team. Political observers were surprised at this development as both Avhad and Davkhare have been at loggerheads with each other for the past few years.

The determined move by NCP has rattled the Shiv Sena, which controls the TMC and won the Thane Lok Sabha by-election recently. Soon after his appointment, Avhad launched as many as six agitations to “expose’ ‘ the ruling Shiv Sena in the TMC. The agitations were aimed at focusing public attention on serious issues like water shortage, the pathetic condition of roads and corruption in the Corporation.

Thane unit of the Sena led by Eknath Shinde, was feeling the heat of the NCP’s offensive. Shinde has the full support of Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray who is paying special attention to this district.

Dhule, located 50 km from Malegaon , has 25 per cent Muslims. Unlike Malegaon , Dhule does not have a history of communal trouble. The current riots can be viewed from the perspective of the change in parliamentary structure in the region. Malegaon used to be a separate constituency. Now it has been merged with Dhule.

This has changed the political equations in the region. Suddenly, the power centre has shifted to Dhule, and all parties want to establish a foothold here.

In every riot, the role of the police is under scrutiny. Even in these riots there are accusations by the local people from the affected areas that police did not come to their rescue and was a mute spectator.

“We want more Muslims to be recruited in the police force for a greater representation of minorities within the system. This will give us a better unders-tanding of certain probl-ems as well,” Maharashtra Director General of Police, A. N Roy told media. “Of course, recruitment will always be merit-based. We want a better and more representative face for the Maharashtra Police, and major efforts are on in this regard as very few Muslim candidates come forward.” Although Muslims form about 11 per cent of Maharashtra ‘s population of 10 crore, their presence in the state police has traditionally been below 5 per cent.

In Dhule. Burhani Complex owned by Shabbir Merchant Burhani, where a huge mall is also situated was looted and later torched. Shabbir lost Rs 1.35 crore totally. Similarly most of the economically strong Muslim families’ business premises were systematically targeted. There are places in many markets where only Muslim business premises were looted first and later burnt, while other communities’ business premises remained intact.