A bike rally taken out by the BJP in Coimbatore prior to the campaigning for the Assembly elections by Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath on Wednesday (March 31) has reignited fear among the minority community of riots like the one witnessed in 1997 that left 18 people dead.
During the two-wheeler rally in Big Bazaar Street, BJP cadres allegedly shouted slogans against members of the minority community in front of the Athar Jamaat Masjid and threw stones at shops. They also allegedly threatened shopkeepers to down the shutters in support of Adityanath’s visit to the city.
The riots in November-December 1997 followed the killing of a police constable allegedly by youths of the minority community. Three months later, in February 1998, the city was rocked by a series of bomb blasts, one of them close to the venue of an election rally that was to be addressed by BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani. The blasts left 58 people dead.
Big Bazaar Street, along with Town Hall and Ukkadam, is the busiest commercial hub in Coimbatore and falls in the Coimbatore (South) constituency from where the BJP has fielded national women’s wing president Vanathi Srinivasan. Adityanath visited the city to campaign for her.
When The Federal visited Ukkadam and Town Hall, shopkeepers, mostly from the minority community, said such rallies bring back memories of the 1998 bomb blast days.
“We feared stepping out of our houses then. People looked at us suspiciously. Many refused to rent houses and shops to us. We had started to forget all the horror of those days and had begun living in peace. But, now, we fear that all that is going to change,” said Nasser Hussain, a shopkeeper selling bags in Town Hall.
Rahman, a wrist watch seller in Ukkadam, said in the last 23 years, he had not seen a “hate campaigning” for elections like the one he saw during the BJP’s bike rally. “All these years, the rallies of political parties were confined to the main roads. But, this time, they entered residential streets and threatened shops to down shutters,” he said.
The BJP believes it can incite communal tension and win votes as pre-poll surveys indicate a wave of anti-incumbency, said Samsudeen Heera, an author based in Tiruppur.
“The BJP candidates are campaigning without using the images of their top leaders. The rally couldn’t have happened without the prior permission of the party leadership. It was a well-planned rally and Vanathi Srinivasan must have had knowledge about it in advance,” he alleged.
“The BJP’s intention is to create communal tension by inciting Muslims through such rallies and sloganeering. But Muslims are more aware now than they were in the 1990s and they won’t easily fall prey to such scheming,” said Heera.
Abdul Wakab, the Naam Tamilar Katchi candidate contesting against Vanathi Srinivasan, has filed a complaint with the election officials against the bike rally.
“Do the BJP cadres realise how difficult it is for small business people to recover from the blow of the COVID-19 lockdown? We have our own shops and we work hard. It is only those with no work who create such nuisance,” he said.
The BJP functionaries were not available for comment.