The incident involving the desecration of the Holy Quran at Malerkotla, the only Muslim majority town and Assembly constituency in Punjab, is getting murkier by the day.
Nearly 40 persons had sustained injuries as protestors resorted to arson after police had intervened to disperse an angry mob on June 24.
Four days after pages of the Muslim holy book were found dumped on Khanna Road in Malerkotla, police arrested three persons who, allegedly, had links with the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
One of those arrested, Delhi based businessman Vijay Kumar, wanted to take “revenge” for the Dinanagar and Pathankot attacks, the police claimed, adding that he hated “Pakistan and Muslims”.
Kumar, the police said, had also spent time in jail in the United States, as he had been caught with suspected jehadi literature.
Some torn pages of the Quran were also recovered from his luxury Audi car in Delhi subsequent to his arrest, the police claimed.
The other two accused, Nand Kishore, a zonal secretary of the VHP in Pathankot, and his son Gaurav, had allegedly helped Vijay Kumar in the conspiracy, the police claimed.
Neither the RSS nor the VHP have responded to these allegations.
Curiouser and curiouser
Two days later, police said that Kumar had named Aam Aadmi Party MLA from Mehrauli (South), Naresh Yadav, as the mastermind of the conspiracy.
“Vijay Kumar has claimed that in Malerkotla, he was offered Rs 1 crore for tearing pages of Quran and throwing them near a drain on Khanna Road," Senior Superintendent of Police, Sangrur, Prithpal Singh Thind said. "Their plan was also to desecrate a Hindu holy book next.”
The police lost no time in filing a first information report against Yadav under Section 153-A IPC (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language etc and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony).
Yadav had been booked on the basis of the statement given by Vijay Kumar, Thind said, adding that there was record of telephone calls exchanged between the two before the incident.
Yadav denied any hand in the conspiracy and explained away the telephone calls by saying that Kumar had been asking him to push the name of a particular person as an AAP candidate for Punjab Assembly elections.
Yadav and the AAP have termed the episode as a conspiracy by the Shiromani Akali Dal- Bharatiya Janata Party government to give AAP a bad name in view of the ensuing elections.
Many questioned the claim pointing out that it would not take as large a sum as Rs 1 crore to organise the crime.
The promptness with which the AAP MLA was named also raised questions, particularly as those arrested earlier were said to have linkages to the RSS and VHP, and it could become an issue in the approaching polls.
But the promptness with which the police named Yadav and went on to declare that he would be summoned if he failed to appear for questioning also raised eyebrows, particularly as these allegations and FIR came a day before the party chief Arvind Kejriwal’s three-day visit to Punjab to release his party’s youth manifesto.
Is the police acting under political pressure? Yadav has already declared that he would be presenting himself before the police on Tuesday. Kejriwal reacted by accusing the state government of hatching a conspiracy to defame his party.
“The state police had announced that Sangh Parivar leaders were involved in the desecration incident," Kejriwal said. "But once my visit to the state was announced, they linked the AAP legislator to it,” he added. “Badals are fearing defeat at the hands of AAP in the next elections."
While the perpetrators did succeed for a brief while in disturbing peace, the silver lining is that they failed to create a divide among the communities. All those injured in the wake of the incident sustained injuries in police action or arson, and not in any communal clash.
Earlier, the sitting SAD MLA Farzana Nissara Khatoon blamed her political rival, two times former MLA Razia Sultana of the Congress, for the incident. Sultana, however, distanced herself from the incident and condemned the sacrilege.
The fact that no incidence of violence or even tension was reported after the initial upsurge of anger subsided shows that the perpetrators failed to achieve their purpose.
And once outsiders were named and arrested as the masterminds of the desecration, even those who had indulged in arson and protest would think twice before getting agitated over such deliberate acts in future.
But the worrying part are the repeated attempts at deliberate religious provocation. Late last year, a series of incidents of the desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book, had brought Punjab to the edge.
Which is why it is important to have an independent and time bound inquiry to lay bare the truth behind the murky incident.