A walk into the congested bylanes of Vadodara’s old city area — a month after the three-day-long communal clashes — the demarcation of ‘communities’ is visible.
Saffron and green flags, symbolic of the Hindu and Muslim communities, respectively, have come up across the streets, virtually covering the entire stretch of the walled city right from Mandvi to Champaner and other areas that witnessed strife.
Locals say the roads are being adorned as both communities are gearing up to celebrate their respective processions – Muharram for Muslims and the Narsiji no Varghodo for Hindus that will intersect communally divided areas.
So, the city’s iconic Mandvi gate is adorned with saffron flags while Champaner gate also has green flags. Similarly, green and saffron flags flutter on alternate poles in equal numbers in Adania Pul, Koyali Falia, Gholwad, Fatehpura main road. Khumbarwada has gone green while Panjrigar Mohalla, that was the epicentre of the September clashes has red flags with a crescent moon and a star from the Muslim sect following Imam Hussein, locals say. Bhandwada, towards the end of Fatehpura road is the only exception waving out tricolour bands to promote communal harmony.
Residents say although no major clash has occurred since September, minor conflicts have marred the streets throughout Diwali, over disputes about bursting of crackers. In fact, locals say, late on Friday night, as groups belonging to two communities got around to installing more flags of their respective colours in the lanes, a minor scuffle broke out – a timely intervention from the police patrol vans averted crisis and no complaint was registered.
Groups say the flags have been installed as both communities wish to take their processions through decked up streets. While Narsiji no Varghodo that symbolizes the marriage of Lord Vitthal with Tulsi will head from these lanes to the Tulsiwadi temple, several Tazias installed by the Muslim community for Muharram will pass through the streets for immersion in the Sarasiya lake a day later.
Commissioner of Police E Radhakrishna says the city force is prepared to ensure that no violation of law and order occurs during the festivities. Radhakrishna says, “There was a minor misunderstanding between two groups putting up flags last night at around 10 hours, but the timely intervention of the police resolved the matter. We have held meetings with the Peace committee and the local groups to ensure that there is communal harmony as the events of both communities are coming in a space of one day, which is sufficient time anyway. The situation is under control.” Organizers of the Varghoda said that it had not put up any flags on the route, but supporters and followers of the temple decorate the path of the procession as a customary ritual. The number of flags, however, has increased this year.
Locals are guarded about the sanctity of communal harmony. “Usually, the Varghoda and Muharram occur after a gap of 15 days. This time, the two celebrations are coinciding. The Muslim pocket area of the Champaner to Adania Pul is the main area for the processions of Tazias. So both communities have been installing flags and it has created some misunderstanding too as both communities feel that it has been done to show supremacy. Some members of the Muslim community met the Police Commissioner to express their apprehensions. However, the things have been cleared now that there is no competition and so there should be no communal tension here,” Amin Syed, general secretary of Muslim Social Group.
Gadinaseen Haji Dastageer Shaikh from the Pir Dada Sadanshah Sharmast Hussain Syed Mastan Baba Darbar, in the communally sensitive Juni Gadi area of Panigate, says the communities are in festive mood and there is nothing much to read into the installation of flags.
However, there has been a call by the Tazia Committee to tone down the processions. “The flags are symbolic of the celebrations of both communities. The Tazia committee has decided to tone down the processions in order to not aggravate matters here,” Dastageer says.
However, given the air of communal tension in the area, the state intelligence bureau is said to be keeping a close watch on movements in the area.