LUCKNOW: Bharatiya Janata Party MLA Suresh Rana has been arrested for allegedly making a hate speech fueling riots in Muzaffarnagar district that killed nearly 50 dead and displaced thousands.
Rana is the first political leader to be arrested in connection with the Muzaffarnagar riots.
A local court issued arrest warrants for 16 politicians and community leaders on Wednesday, including members of both the opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress which leads the coalition government at the centre, accusing them of inciting violence through inflammatory speeches made at various Hindu and Muslim gatherings, including the September 7 rally.
The violence - which forced authorities to deploy the army and paramilitary forces, impose curfews and revoke gun licences in places where arms are plentiful - has ebbed, but many displaced Muslims refuse to return home, fearing more bloodshed.
They languish in some 40 schools and mosques which have been converted into relief camps across Muzaffarnagar and neighbouring areas, grateful for the safety in numbers and the three meals of rice and lentils provided daily.
What sparked off Muzaffarnagar riots
The clashes were triggered on August 27 when a Muslim youth was stabbed to death by two Hindu youths after being accused of harassing their sister. A Muslim mob stoned the two Hindus to death.
In the following days the police failed to deal with the perpetrators, and politicians from various parties gave inflammatory speeches, stoking tension between Hindus and Muslims who, local people say, had lived in this area in relative harmony since independence in 1947.
The tension was evident at a Hindu Jat farmers' rally on September 7 to condemn the killing of the Hindu youths. Video footage showed a crowd of several thousand, wielding wooden sticks and swords, listening to speeches by political leaders who called for action against the Muslims.
Bloodshed followed when Hindus returning from the rally clashed with Muslims, local government officials said.
"When they (the Hindus) reached the villages the following morning, the Hindus started targeting Muslims residing in their own villages," said Kaushik Raj Sharma, Muzaffarnagar's district magistrate.
"The mobs were firing shots and throwing petrol bombs at the minority's houses. Some Muslims hid in their own homes and were burnt alive, others who tried to flee were chopped (to death)."
The riot quickly spread to the neighbouring areas falling under Shamli and Meerut districts.