New Delhi: The "anger was spontaneous but the violence was predominantly organised", reveals the state intelligence's assessment report on violent protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) across Uttar Pradesh, leaving at least 21 dead and over 400 injured in India's most populous state.
The report also uncovers the role of the Popular Front of India (PFI), alleged to be the new avatar of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India, in inciting mobs and executing incidents of arson, firing and even hurling bombs in communally-sensitive pockets of the state. On the ground, the "wild west" of Uttar Pradesh appeared to be the most violent where 318 persons have been arrested on charges of arson, firing and damaging state property.
"There is evidence against PFI leaders in several incidents. Over 20 PFI members have been arrested including Noor Hasan, state President of the Social Democratic Party of India (the political wing of PFI). The hot spot of violence was in Meerut, Muzaffarnagar and Bulandshahr," says Prashant Kumar, Additional Director General of Police, Meerut zone.
According to the ADG, who commands over 10 districts around Meerut, the role of PFI in engineering a riot-like situation in western Uttar Pradesh is being investigated. Around 140 km away from Meerut, in the state's densely-populated Rohilkhand region, the protests also had the footprints of rioters who triggered large scale violence in Muslim-dominated areas of western Uttar Pradesh. Here, Bijnor, Sambhal and Rampur were the worst-hit.
"We suspect that violence, primarily arson on state property, was organised," Superintendent of Police, Rampur, Ajay Pal Sharma told IANS. Asked why they suspect so, the IPS officer said: "It was surprising to note that where protesters gathered in large numbers, the place was comparatively peaceful than those areas where number of protesters were very less, but violence was seen on a large scale. For example, at Idgah, me and the DM were monitoring a large crowd of 15,000 protesters (who were peaceful), but a few hundred yards away at Hathikhana, a small number of protesters had indulged in arson, opening fire on police and hurling country-made bombs. It was clear that a small group of rioters, operating at a different place, had a totally different agenda."
Rampur has a border with Sambhal which further shares its boundary with Aligarh, one of the most volatile districts where violence erupted during anti-CAA protests. The intelligence reports says that the Aligarh Muslim University is the new hub of the PFI's activities which ostensibly turned the campus into a battlefield as police and students clashed throughout the day on December 15.
Police alleged that PFI and other local Muslim organisations played a key role in inciting violence. In a bid to prevent more violent clashes engulfing a communally-sensitive town, the AMU has been closed till January 5, and all hostels have been ordered vacated. Defending the students, the AMU Teachers Association has now sought a judicial probe on December 15 clashes. However, AMU authorities are silent on the role of PFI's student wing, the Campus Front of India, which has a broad base in the University, in the student versus police showdown.
One of the largest protests across India was witnessed in Kanpur where more than 2.5 lakh people came on the streets on Friday (December 20) soon after noon prayers. "The violence seems to be organised by the outsiders. We need some more evidence in this connection. As of now, we have registered 17 cases and the police is in the process of identifying more culprits through the video footage," Kanpur's Senior Superintendent of Police, Anant Deo told IANS.
The Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the state police is also trying to find out whether rioters of Kanpur were linked with the ones in Lucknow. In the state capital, the police arrested three PFI office bearers, including its state Convener Waseem Ahmed, on charges of executing large-scale violence and arson in the city. While police and intelligence agencies see PFI members involved in the violence across state, the organisation's Central Secretariat says that the organisation has been falsely implicated by the UP government.
The PFI says that Ahmed, arrested by Lucknow police, had no role to play in arson or damage to state property. "The arrests are part of a vicious conspiracy to tarnish and suppress the ongoing mass agitations portraying them as some sort of terrorist acts," a PFI office-bearer told IANS over phone. Meanwhile, a Principal Secretary-level officer of the UP government said that a threadbare investigation is being carried out to probe the role of the PFI in the CAA protests and once evidence is gathered, the state would request the Union Home Ministry to initiate suitable action against the organisation.