As Charges Fly, Odisha's Bhadrak Still Simmers After Communal Violence

A curfew has been imposed in Bhadrak ever since a Facebook post sparked communal tension and violence

Bhadrak, Odisha: It has been four days since communal violence singed Bhadrak in Odisha, around three hours from the capital Bhubaneswar. But eight separate police cases and 73 arrests later, the nondescript little town is still simmering with tension.

A curfew has been imposed in Bhadrak ever since a Facebook post sparked communal tension and violence. This is the first time in 26 years that the area, known to be a town of traders with a 40 per cent Muslim population, has seen such tension. Shops have been burnt down at least at eight locations, though there have been no reports of any injuries or casualties.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has described the tension as a "small incident" which the state government is inquiring into.

Police have arrested a man in his early twenties, Mohammad Asif Khan, responsible for the controversial Facebook post related to Lord Ram and Sita, during Ram Navami last week. His arrest has embarrassed the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD), as Khan is the son of a party supporter Asghar Ali.

Charges are being levelled even against the local BJD legislator Jugal Patnaik's son Asit Patnaik. He is being blamed for shielding members of the minority community who took out a bike rally on Friday, despite orders against large gatherings.

"I wasn't in Bhadrak that day. I was at Bhubaneswar and when I came to know of the violence, I kept in touch with the police here on the phone and returned at 2:30 in the morning," said Asit Patnaik, who is also  a the Vice-President of the local BJD unit, rejecting the charges.

Bhadrak has taken centre-stage not just for communal tension, but also politically, as the opposition BJP is all set to hold its three day national executive meet in Bhubaneshwar at the end of this week. The meet, which will be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah is likely to discuss party strategy for 2019 state elections.

Though no BJP member has been linked to the tension, right wing groups like Bajrang Dal have been at the forefront of the controversy. "We went to the police station to register the case related to the Facebook post because the complainant who received the message is a minor. We wanted to support him. But the police have been late in taking action. They should have made arrests that very day instead of letting the situation aggravate," claimed local Bajrang Dal member Manas Mohanty.

The local police rubbished the allegations.

"We are not here to look at political affiliations which is why we are not releasing details of which accused belongs to which outfit," said a senior police officer Ghanshyam Upadhyay. "If there have been any omissions, action will be taken against those policemen," he said.

Curfew was relaxed for six hours during the day on Monday but there has been total shutdown of internet services in the town to prevent rumours and viral messages from spreading.