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'Advani is an instigator'
A Ganesh Nadar in Coimbatore |
March 12, 2004 15:06 IST
The entrance to Kottaimedu is heavily guarded. There are cops in khaki, others in blue combat fatigues -- the Rapid Action Force.
Deputy Prime Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani's 'Bharat Uday Yatra' reached Coimbatore late on Thursday evening. After a night halt at the Circuit House, Advani addressed a press conference on Friday morning and moved on.
|More on Advani's Yatra|
Advani's previous visit to Coimbatore in February 1998 was an eventful one -- 33 people were killed and 153 others injured in a series of blasts shortly before his arrival for a campaign meeting.
Naturally, this time the administration has not been taking any chances. Kottaimedu is a Muslim-dominated area of the town. Heavy security arrangements and nakabandi are not new to it.
When Jayalalithaa was chief minister in 1991, her first term, the area was surrounded by checkposts. The licence plates of every car, every two-wheeler leaving or entering Kottaimedu was noted down by cops. The residents seethed in anger.
In 1996, as election results came in and people realised that Jayalalithaa's All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam would lose and the M Karunanidhi-led DMK would return to power, young men in groups dismantled the checkposts. One policeman was even stabbed to death.
During the DMK's rule the checkposts remained absent.
In February 1998, a few boys were fined for riding two-wheelers without licences. They paid the fine and came away. On their way home, according to the police, they saw a lone policeman, Selvaraj, standing at a street corner and stabbed him to death.
All the accused in the case were discharged by a special court for want of witnesses.
The Hindu Munnani then led a backlash. Muslim shops were looted and burnt.
February 14, 1998. There was retaliation from the other side. A series of bombs went off in shops owned by Hindus. More than 30 people died. Advani arrived in Coimbatore just minutes after the blasts.
The media and the BJP went to town proclaiming that Advani was the target of the blasts. He was not. The blasts were an act of revenge for the attacks on Muslims.
Now, five years later, with Advani back in town, what were the Muslims of Coimbatore thinking? Another riot? More checkposts? Or do they believe times have changed?
Most preferred not to talk about Advani or February 1998. A tea-stall owner said: "In the morning I had one reporter talking only about the bomb blasts and now you are talking about Advani. Please come back tomorrow after he leaves. Today there is too much tension in the air."
Hussain, an autorickshaw driver, said angrily: "Of course I will attend Advani's meeting, I want to hear what he has to say. He will cause some fight. He is an instigator. He will say something, scratch his nose, and go away. It is the speakers after him that we have to watch. They will talk nonsense... topics that don't concern them and about which they know nothing.
"What do they know of Islam? All they will say is why is he [a Muslim] allowed to marry so many times. Do I ask them about their marriage? Some years back a Hindu Munnani boy was talking against Islam on stage with a mike. A Muslim boy stabbed him. What else could he do? No one likes their religion insulted. Mind you, this Advani is a troublemaker. He will start the problem and go on his way. We will suffer after he leaves."
Heethayat Ali manages a hotel. He is a member of the Dravidar Kazhagam since 1972. "I hate the BJP, the Muslim League and the PMK [Pattali Makkal Katchi]," he said. "They are parties based on caste and religion. I like the DMK, the MDMK and the Congress. The BJP is a party meant for the rich. In six years [of their rule] the minorities have suffered. The minorities in Coimbatore haven't even recovered 50% per cent from the bomb blasts.
"The dalits, the Muslims and the Christians have suffered under the BJP. They sell public-sector units and jobs are lost. The VHP, the Hindu Munnani, the RSS support the BJP and they are all Hindu groups. The Hindu Munnani leader Ramagopalan calls us 'tulakan'. Tulakan is a derogatory term for Muslims in Tamil. It is akin to calling a foreigner a firang. It is derived from the word Turkey which Tamilians pronounce toorkee. Now Ramagopalan is asking for votes for the BJP. How will we vote?"
Mohammad Waheed interrupted him. "I don't like politics, but if Sonia Gandhi is a foreigner then Advani is also a foreigner. Why didn't they object when she became an MP and leader of the Opposition. When the Supreme Court says she is an Indian, how can these people say something else? Jayalalithaa, Venkaiah Naidu and Advani should be charged with contempt of court.
"Jayalalithaa, who had tea with Sonia Gandhi and then brought down the Vajpayee government, is now calling Sonia a foreigner. She is not a ordinary citizen. She is the chief minister. She should behave with decorum."
The police began hovering around, glaring at the group. Obviously, they didn't like people surrounding this correspoendent and chatting animatedly. The checkposts may no longer be there. Cops noting down vehicle numbers may be absent. But Kottaimedu is still a world under siege.