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Cong fanned fire, frenzy: Ex-CM

Press Trust of India

Posted: Jul 25, 2005 at 1210 hrs IST

The Congress, still struggling to reclaim its Muslim vote bank in Bihar, is faced with the embarrassment ahead of coming Assembly polls with former Chief Minister Satyendra Narain Sinha accusing his predecessor as also a former Assembly speaker of having "fanned" communal riots in Bhagalpur in 1989 which left over 1000 people, mostly Muslims, dead.

"I felt like Abhimanyu of the Mahabharata who found himself surrounded by his own clansmen who were attacking him," recalls Singh, who was the Chief Minister at the time of the riots, in his autobiography Meri Yaadein, Meri bhoolein (My Memories, My Mistakes) released by Governor Buta Singh in the presence of Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee on July 12.

"The Bhagalpur communal riots are an unpleasant chapter in my life and my tenure as Chief Minister. Motivated by personal jealousy and ill will, some of my political colleagues fanned these riots," he says.

"Some of these political friends, though present at Bhagalpur during the riots, instead of bringing them under control, were adding fuel to the fire. The names of Bhagwat Jha Azad, who had to vacate the chief ministerial chair for me and former speaker Shivchandra Jha are worth mentioning in this regard," he says. Recalling subsequent events following the outbreak of violence, Sinha, whose son Nikhil Kumar -- a former Delhi Police Commissioner -- is Congress MP from Aurangabad, alleged the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi overruled his order to transfer the Police Superintendent of Bhagalpur K S Dwivedi.

"When we (Sinha and Rajiv) were on way to the circuit house from the airstrip on October 26, two days after the outbreak of the riots, an obstreperous crowd, mostly comprising policemen and VHP activists, was raising slogans against the SP's transfer and gauging their aggressiveness Rajivji announced stay on Dwivedi's transfer without consulting me," Sinha says.

"The Prime Minister's action, I think, was not only an encroachment of the Constitutional right of the state government but also a step detrimental to ongoing efforts to ease tensions," Sinha says adding, "I thought stopping the SP's transfer will send a wrong message to the Muslims and give fillip to indiscipline in the police force."

"In fact, the alienation of the Muslims began with the staying of my order for Dwivedi's transfer," claims Sinha adding, "At one stage it came to my mind to resign but then I thought this would amount to breaking the faith and trust Rajivji had in me."

Sinha "recalls meeting Rajiv after being removed from the Chief Minister's post" where he informed him about the "role of some Congress leaders" in the riots. "The Prime Minister expressed surprise and said 'so, the riots were motivated!'"

The former Chief Minister said he felt the need for transfer of the then DM Arun Kumar Jha but there were hurdles in the way as he was close to Bhagwat Jha Azad and being the returning officer for the polls the Election Commission's concurrence was also needed.

Sinha's accusations have drawn strong reaction from former speaker Shivchandra Jha, while the governor, who released the autobiography, has sought to distance him from the whole controversy.

"The remarks against me are motivated and are an attempt by Sinha to cover up his own failure as chief minister to check the riots," Jha said, adding the Commission of Inquiry which went into the riots never pointed an accusing finger at him.

Buta Singh, when contacted, said, "I don't want to be drawn into any controversy. The Bihar government would not take any notice of the book."

"The revelation made by Sinha has necessitated a fresh high-level probe into the riots with special focus on the role of the two leaders named by Sinha," said Sushil Kumar Modi, state BJP president and Lok Sabha member from Bhagalpur. NDA's chief ministerial candidate and JD-U parliamentary party leader Nitish Kumar says, "nobody can claim to have more authoritative information about the riots than Sinha and his charge proves that Congress is not secular."

"When a Congress Prime Minister can succumb to unreasonable pressure and stay the transfer of district police chief hurting the sentiments of the minorities, how can that party claim to be secular," he said.

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