A lethal cocktail of local politics, rumour-mongering and communal faultlines led to the violence in Vaishali’s Lalganj over the last 48 hours during which a 17-year-old was killed in police firing and an officer lynched by a mob, according to officials and residents.
They said the sequence of events was triggered by an accident on Tuesday when 19-year-old Mohammed Rizwan lost control of the pick-up van he was driving and rammed into the house of a 60-year-old businessman, killing him and his 8-month-old granddaughter.
The incident acquired a communal tone on Wednesday when word spread that Rizwan had been let off by police after preliminary inquiries, residents said. Within hours, they added, nearly 1,000 people were engaged in clashes that led to 17-year-old Vikas Kumar being fatally injured in police firing and Sub-Inspector Ajit Kumar lynched.
On Thursday, a day before the new Nitish Kumar-led government takes charge, police said they had “re-arrested” Rizwan and intensified deployment in the locality to put a lid on the simmering tension.
“Our first priority is maintain law and order. All top police officers have visited the spot and we are looking into all possible angles,” said Bihar DGP P K Thakur.
“We are studying video footage of the incident to identify the culprits. No one has been named so far in the FIR. But we are suspecting the involvement of people with political affiliations from either community,” said a senior police officer.
Lalganj police and local residents told The Indian Express that the conflict had its origins in political rivalry.
“The owner of the pick-up van, Nanhe Khan, was a supporter of the JD(U)’s Mahaghatbandhan. There had been some tension after the NDA candidate, LJP’s Rajkumar Sah, defeated JD(U)’s Annu Shukla, wife of local leader Munna Shukla, in the recent assembly elections,” said Manoj Kumar Yadav, a local resident.
“Some anti-social elements are trying to give this politics a communal colour,” said Mohammed Iqbal, another resident.
Describing Tuesday’s accident, police said Rizwan’s vehicle broke through the wall of the home of tent-house owner Rajendra Sah, killing him and his granddaughter Maya instantly.
Within hours, police said, a mob targeted the houses of Khan, Rizwan and their three relatives nearby.
The situation deteriorated on Wednesday morning as rumours spread of police releasing Rizwan, residents said. Ignoring pleas that Rizwan had been shifted to another police station, a mob once again targeted the houses of Khan, Rizwan and three of their relatives, torching a four-wheeler and a two-wheeler outside.
Soon, police said, over 1,000 people had gathered and begun indulging in arson and vandalism. As the situation spiralled out of control, police opened fire with bullets hitting Vikas Kumar, a resident of Ataullapur, and another 13-year-old boy. Kumar succumbed to his injuries later at Patna Medical College hospital.
The firing inflamed the situation further and led to Belsar outpost in-charge Sub-Inspector Ajit Kumar, who had rushed over to assist his Lalganj colleagues, being targeted by a mob, residents said.
Describing the incident, an eye-witness and local resident Ramesh Kumar said: “The police officer hid in a house and tried to escape but he came out in the open on seeing a group of people engaging in arson. He was caught and beaten to death by wooden sticks and bricks.”
Said an officer at the Lalganj station: “SI Ajit Kumar had gone with a police team to the spot but was left behind. By the time we saved him from the mob, he had suffered massive internal injuries.”
Lalganj police and residents, meanwhile, dismissed rumours of Muslim families moving out of the Agarpur locality in the Hindu-dominated area following the clashes, and said only Rizwan’s relatives had left.
“We had sent our women to the houses of our relatives in Muzaffarpur on Tuesday evening… the men stayed away for a few hours on Wednesday. But all of us came back when we realised that the grudge was against five Muslim families. No one touched us,” said Mohammed Sadiq, a resident of Badi Masjid chowk in Agarpur.