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December 8, 1997


Tamil Nadu police under heavy fire for Coimbatore violence

N Sathiya Moorthy in Madras

The Tamil Nadu police have come under heavy fire for the November 30 violence in Coimbatore that took a communal turn. The cops, it is alleged, had openly taken sides with the rioters.

Intelligence reports say that while many policemen joined hands with the rioters, certain others looked the other way when Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam legislator C T Dhanapani and his followers were forced to run for their lives. Dhanapani had gone to pay homage to the policeman who was murdered by rioters.

The rioters also raised slogans against the police's intelligence unit for allegedly misleading the government on the communal front.

Coimbatore has lately been the hotbed of communal clashes. The district was rocked by violence earlier this year, following the killing of 'Palani' Baba (a Muslim fundamentalist leader) by a mob, reportedly imported from Kerala. Incidentally, it is in areas bordering neighbouring states that communal clashes have been rampant.

Al-Umma, a Muslim fundamentalist organisation, is being blamed for killing the Coimbatore cop. However, the organisation had shed some of its violent streak since the DMK came to power. As Al-Umma convener Basha announced last year, the organisation has chosen the centrist path as the new government was sympathetic to their cause.

Reports also speak of established moderate Muslim political groups, like the Indian National League of M A Lateef, losing credibility among the community because of personalised politics. This seems to have forced activists to move towards fundamentalism with greater vigour.

However, what ignited the Coimbatore violence was the local community's refusal to surrender the killers of the cop, who was only doing his duty at a traffic junction -- he paid the price for a sub-inspector registering a case against three fundamentalists for travelling 'triples' on a moped earlier in the evening. They had sworn vengeance against the sub-inspector, but hacked the traffic cop, Selvaraj, to death instead.

While the police has been condemned for resorting to violence, there is also wide appreciation of the state government's decision to call in the army immediately.

"But for the timely intervention of the army, which produced a psychological fear among all mobsters and anti-socials, the loss and damage could have been worse," intelligence sources say.

Chief Minister M Karunanidhi also lost no time in ordering a judicial probe by retired Gujarat high court chief justice P R Gokulakrishnan.

''It could be embarrassing to the state administration, particularly the police, when all the truth comes out. There are enough indications about impending violence on the eve of the Ayodya demolition anniversary," sources say, "The sub-inspector stopping the fundamentalists only provided the spark."

Police sources agree that the incident has now made them cautious on what to expect from fundamentalist groups.

"These groups are violence-prone. They have the potential to create large-scale mischief. Madras was saved from bomb-blasts earlier this year, when central agencies tipped off the state police. But you cannot be lucky all the time," sources say.

The state government, for its part, has given the police a free hand. Earlier, the apex court's 11-point human rights directive on detention used to come in the way of curbing lawlessness. Karunanidhi, however, has warned rioters of action under the National Security Act and the Goondas Act.

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