Protest over social media message turns violent in Kolhapur city; curfew imposed

NCP chief Sharad Pawar accuses ruling party of encouraging communal incidents

June 07, 2023 06:52 pm | Updated June 08, 2023 09:29 am IST - Pune

People gather to protest against the alleged use of Tipu Sultan’s image in social media posts in Kolhapur district on June 7, 2023.

People gather to protest against the alleged use of Tipu Sultan’s image in social media posts in Kolhapur district on June 7, 2023. | Photo Credit: PTI

Tension prevailed in Kolhapur city of Maharashtra on Wednesday following a violent protest by right-wing outfits over some social media status messages reportedly glorifying Mughal emperor Aurangzeb and 18th-century Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan.

Authorities said that right-wing outfits had called for a shutdown of the district with a large number of these activists congregating at the Kolhapur city’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Chowk.

The Kolhapur police had on Tuesday launched a probe into some social media status messages showing images of the 17th century Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb and 18th-century Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan accompanied by audio messages allegedly objectionable to Hindu sentiments, as claimed by these outfits.

The authorities said they had acted by lodging a complaint against those who had put-up these objectionable statuses and had managed to pacify leaders of the Hindutva outfits to call off their demonstration today. However, the protests spiralled out of control by 11.30 a.m. after some unruly elements resorted to stone-pelting.

By noon, the demonstrators became aggressive with reports of a mob entering Muslim-dominated localities and resorting to stone-pelting, destroying shop facades, overturning handcarts.

Following fracas between groups of both religious denominations, the police resorted to lathi charge and got the situation under control by late afternoon, clearing the streets of the protestors.

Internet services have been suspended till Thursday evening while prohibitory orders have been issued till June 19 banning assembly of five or more persons, said a senior police official.

“The situation is fully under control. We are assessing the damage done by the stone-pelting. Our authorities defused the tension by using requisite force, chasing unruly mobs and detaining miscreants. We appeal to people not to believe rumours circulating on social media. We will be detaining any persons loitering around or large groups,” said Sunil Phulari, Special Inspector General of Police (Kolhapur range), adding that units of the State Reserve Police Force (SRPF) have been deployed in the city to aid the local police force.

While urging people not to take law in their own hands, Maharashtra Home Minister Devendra Fadnavis said the State government would not tolerate anyone “glorifying Aurangzeb” in the land of Chhatrapati Shivaji.

“While it is natural that there will be anger if [Mughal Emperor] Aurangzeb is glorified in Chhatrapati Shivaji’s Maharashtra, action will have to be taken against those taking law into their own hands. But there is a need to investigate how come so many of ‘Aurangzeb’s sons’ have arisen suddenly. Have they risen to deliberately spoil the State’s law and order situation. Who is behind all this social tension?” said Mr. Fadnavis, stating that such incidents blemished Maharashtra’s reputation as an industrially progressive state.

“All of a sudden, there are such incidents breaking out over various places in Maharashtra. There are people who display Aurangzeb’s photo, keep his image as their status. As a result, a lot of tension and ill-feeling is being created between communities. Who is behind all this? The government will get to the root of who is trying to destroy law and order in the State,” Mr. Fadnavis warned.

Stating that maintaining law and order was the government’s responsibility and that no one ought to take it in their own hands, CM Eknath Shinde said he was personally in touch with the local administration and that necessary directives had been given to maintain peace in Kolhapur.

The incident fits a pattern of recent clashes and rioting in Akola, Ahmednagar and elsewhere between two communities resulting in heightened social tensions across Maharashtra.  

The Kolhapur violence led to a verbal slanging match between the opposition and ruling party leaders, with the NCP, the Shiv Sena (uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) and the Congress accusing the ruling Shiv Sena -BJP of deliberately fomenting communal riots and heightening social tensions for petty political gain.

Accusing the ruling parties of deliberately “encouraging” instances of communal violence, NCP chief Sharad Pawar said that minor incidents had snowballed into clashes.

“Incidents of communal clashes in Ahmednagar and Kolhapur have taken place over some social media messages. What is the meaning of hitting the streets over such messages? Today’s ruling parties are encouraging such things. Leaders should ensure peace and law and order. But if they along with their subordinates start hitting the streets and create hatred between two communities, this is worrisome for the State,” Mr. Pawar said, addressing a press conference in Chhatrapati Sambhajinagar (formerly ‘Aurangabad’).

He said that such incidents were being “planned” and that minority communities were being deliberately targeted across the country.

“Churches have been attacked in States like Orissa and other places. I do not understand the reason behind attacking a religious place for an action of an individual. This [attacks] is not a work of an individual but that of an ideology which is not good for the society,” said Mr. Pawar.

Congress State chief Nana Patole said that the ruling government was “impotent” in preventing riots that had now become a daily occurrence in Maharashtra.

“How is it that Aurangzeb’s glorifiers have become active only now? Riots are taking place in the State every day. What is the Chief Minister and the Home Minister doing? Be it Sambhajinagar, Ahmednagar, Amravati or Nashik, there were attempts to create riots in each of these places by raising the temperature on religious issues. But these attempts failed as people have firmly adopted a stance a reconciliation,” Mr. Patole said.

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