On the other hand, local leaders and police officers said the city had been on edge for about a month after the theft of idols from a temple, which many believe culminated in several shops being gutted in the riots. Also, a land row in Mirzapur village, 5 km from the city, over a plot of land occupied by a mosque and a Shiva temple, had raised tempers and matters came to a head on the day of Eid in August before calm was restored.
On September 21, the idols of Lakshmi, Saraswati and Kali were stolen from the Badi Devkali temple, one of the oldest in Faizabad, to which thousands of devotees throng during Navratri. The theft triggered a wave of protests. Local leaders even formed the ‘Devkali Mandir Puja Sthapna Sangharsh Samiti’ to protest against the district administration and police’s alleged inaction in retrieving the idols.
“There were protests across the city that included several local leaders affiliated to political parties. They demanded that the idols be retrieved immediately failing which they would even go to the extent of canceling this year’s immersion of idols,” said a senior police officer. At least two people who were part of the samiti had also been arrested after the riots on October 24, he added.
However, two weeks after the riots, police officers said that no one has come forward to register an FIR about the harassment incident that allegedly triggered the violence. “Everybody talks about the incident and the girl who was harassed, but no complaint has been registered so far,” said a senior police officer.
Some locals questioned leaflets distributed by the Sri Navdurga Puja committee on the eve of the procession which had a note asking people to come in large numbers but not bring women and children. “Why this particular note? did certain people know something was about to happen or that things may go awry?” asked Rajiv Yadav of Rihai Manch, a local human rights group, adding that such a note had not been issued in the past.
Meanwhile, the stolen idols had been recovered on October 22, two days before Dussehra, from near Kanpur and four people arrested. However, senior district administration officials alleged that the protests, a bandh, a visit by BJP MP from Gorakhpur, Yogi Adityanath, and sustained rumours had done their damage. “Once the idols were recovered, some members of the samiti protested again claiming the idols were fake,” said an official.
Yogi Adityanath, a fiery orator, was brought to Faizabad on October 13. According to reports in local newspapers then, Adityanath was not allowed into the city and he addressed a gathering near the Badi Devkali temple. He reportedly gave the police a deadline of two days to recover the idols failing which, he threatened that followers would to take matters into their own hands.
Sriram Pathak, the caretaker of the Badi Devkali temple, said that no one affiliated to the temple was part of the samiti. “We filed a complaint with the police and hoped for the best. In fact, members of a certain political party tried to force us into the samiti claiming that the idols had been stolen by Muslims,” Pathak said.
According to Pathak, it was ironic that the idols were not only recovered, but those arrested were all Hindus and not one of them was from Faizabad. “Although the idols were recovered, some people refused to believe they were real and staged more protests. Our main priest who takes care of the idols had to finally identify them in court,” Pathak said.
Following Adityanath’s rally, Faizabad’s Samajwadi Party MLA Tejnarayan Pandey, who defeated five-time BJP MLA Lallu Singh in what was considered a BJP bastion, led a delegation to Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav. “Sangharsh Samiti members and I went and met the CM, who immediately ordered the police to hasten the investigation into the stolen idols,” Pandey said, adding that communal forces had tried to shatter Faizabad’s peace since the assembly elections.
“They have been trying to create trouble here for months now after the BJP lost the election. Despite their efforts no casualties were reported in Faizabad and we are working on bringing all communities together again,” Pandey said.
The BJP, on its part, blames the district administration and the state government. “Every year, police escorted the Durga idol immersion procession to maintain law and order. However, this time, there was no police force. In fact, although liquor was banned many people were consuming alcohol openly,” said Faizabad BJP president Om Prakash Singh. The police, he claimed, had reacted “lazily” to the harassment incident, which otherwise would not have spun out of control and led to a riot.