Lucknow/New Delhi: Shoot-at-sight orders were issued Monday in Uttar Pradesh's Muzaffarnagar district as the toll in communal clashes, one of the worst in the country in recent times, went up to 31.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called up Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav to offer help while BSP leader Mayawati demanded president's rule in the country's most populous state of 210 million people.
With violence refusing to abate in rural areas of the town, with a significant Muslim population, authorities gave shoot-at-sight orders against rioters in Muzaffarnagar district, known for its sugar mills amidst sprawling sugarcane fields. It is located barely 120 km from the national capital.
Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Arun Kumar told IANS that cases have been slapped on 40 identified people and 1,000 "unknown" people for their involvement in inciting mobs and for being involved in the riots.
Sectarian violence started when some people pelted stones at a bus carrying people to a "mahapanchayat" where elders of two religious groups were meeting to sort out the simmering tension between Jats, a farming community, and Muslims ever since three youth were killed Aug 27 over a case of stalking, allegedly of a Jat Hindu girl by a Muslim youth.
The spiralling violence prompted Manmohan Singh Monday to speak to Akhilesh Yadav and assure him all help.
Officials in the Chief Minister's Office told IANS that the prime minister assured Akhilesh Yadav, 40, a first time chief minister, that whatever security forces the state government required will be dispatched immediately.
In the 12-minute long conversation, the prime minister also asked the chief minister to take control of the situation and ensure that peace returned to the violence-hit areas.
"The telephonic conversation was held on a positive note with both leaders expressing concern on the developments in Muzaffarnagar and speaking of coordination in bringing back normalcy," a senior official told IANS.
Opposition Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati demanded imposition of President's rule (federal rule) in the state over the bloodletting. She criticised the Samajwadi Party regime for "failing to control communal flare-ups and (deteriorating) law and order".
"The present state government has acted very late. It has allowed communal tensions to simmer for 10 days and I can say that they are presiding over jungle raaj in the state," Mayawati told reporters in New Delhi.
The Millat Bedari Muhim Committee (MBMC) Aligarh, a Muslim organisation, too demanded the dismissal of the Akhilesh Yadav government, and the imposition of President's rule.
"Not only has the law and order situation in Uttar Pradesh broken down, but the state government has failed in stopping communal riots and punishing the guilty," said Jasim Mohammad, as he chaired the meeting of the group.
The union government was quick to respond to a report forwarded by UP Governor B.L. Joshi. A senior official said the governor "was of the view that the situation in Muzaffarnagar was grim and required prompt and serious action".
Samajwadi Party leaders admit that they were stumped by the "proactiveness of the governor".
Officials admitted that the governor's promptness in passing off ground report to the centre also spurred the state government to action. This, they added, included transfer of senior officials and dispatching of competent police officers to the violence-hit areas.
The Uttar Pradesh government has begun probing the role of politicians in sectarian violence.
"We are collecting proof of their role in inciting mobs, mobilizing the crowds for the 'mahapanchayat' which later triggered the violence," a home department official told IANS.
The government has also asked the cyber unit of the state police to trace the "provocative and fake" video clips uploaded on YouTube, which apparently aggravated the situation.
SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, for the second day Monday, was involved in fire-fighting exercise, and is learnt to have spoken to senior Congress ministers in New Delhi on the situation.
The crackdown on politicians, sources say, is also being undertaken at the behest of Mulayam Singh who sees a hand of "some political elements" behind the communal violence.
"We have been saying all through that efforts are being done to vitiate and polarize the state on communal lines and our worst fears are now coming true," a senior UP minister said, admitting the riots had put the state government in the dock.