Toll: 660 (Muslims: 430; Hindus: 24)
As usual, there was a chain of events. Ahmedabad witnessed its biggest ever RSS rally in December 1968, where the then chief MS Golwalkar spoke of the atrocities on Hindus in Pakistan during Partition.
The alleged desecration of the Koran by the Superintendent of Police, BH Desai, in March 1969 forced the police to lathicharge an unruly mob. The police subsequently apologised. On Janmashtami, September 4, a Muslim police officer searching for one Pandit Balkrishna, dispersed a Ramlila programme, toppled a table on which an arti and the Ramayan were kept, and allegedly kicked the scripture.
Quoting a government special report, the commission said: “On the night of 10-9-69, Balkrishna approached the local Bharatiya Jan Sangh workers and through them contacted one Harishchandra Shankerlal Panchal…it was decided that instead of openly supporting the movement in the name of Bharatiya Jan Sangh, the same may be started in the name of Hindu Dharma Raksha Samiti.
On September 11, HDRS organised a fast seeking action against the Muslim officer. On September 14, the officer was suspended and the fast ended. The same day, Balraj Madhok, MP and Jan Sangh leader, addressed a meeting of the intelligentsia. The commission felt “many (will) disagree, perhaps vehemently” with his speech.
On September 18, thousands gathered at the Bukhari Saheb Dargah, a furlong from the Jagannath temple, to celebrate Urs. A few cows belonging to the temple strayed away, disrupting the celebration. A fight broke out between the priests accompanying the herd and a group in the crowd. Some sadhus were beaten, and the ensuing stone-throwing shattered the glass facade of the temple gate. The police dispersed the crowd.
But pamphlets, rumours and wall-writings appeared overnight, inciting Hindus. HDRS issued incendiary pamphlets in its own name. The commission mentioned the one issued by Ratanlal Gupta, a Jan Sangh worker and HRDS ward convenor, who portrayed the Jagannath temple incident as a planned attack by Muslims, and even claimed that the sadhus’ legs had been cut off.
The commission said: “There’s no doubt in our minds that the writings on the blackboards, the pamphlets and patrikas issued on the 19th did contribute to the fanning of the riots.” The sporadic attacks on Muslims that began on September 18 night turned into a conflagration the following day.
Citing eyewitness accounts, the commission observed, “This evidence shows that organised attacks were being made on Muslim properties and Muslims…” It noted an instance in which a Jan Sangh worker led and directed assailants.
Citing various bits of evidence, the commission said the police had “reason to believe that some local Jan Sangh leaders and workers were actively participating” in the riots. The commission observed: “…some of the district magistrates have not hesitated to place before the Commission the fact of such participation by Jan Sangh and Hindu Mahasabha workers…one or two of them speak of incitement given by Jan Sangh workers, though when some of them gave evidence they tried to hedge.”
In its reconstruction of the chain of events, the commission made repeated mention of the involvement of RSS, Jan Sangh and HDRS workers. It spoke of lorries being used to carry rioters and weapons, and crowds being led and directed.
However, since it lacked the direct evidence to link them to a larger design, it said, “The evidence relating to participation of some of the workers of these parties or organisations is not by itself sufficient to justify the inference of the participation of the aforesaid parties as all-India parties or organisations.”
Probe: The P Jaganmohan Reddy Commission of Inquiry Ahmedabad, Sept. 1969 Toll: 660 (Muslims: 430; Hindus: 24)
(Courtesy: The Hindustan Times, March 12, 2000)