Monday, Apr 08, 2002
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By Manas Dasgupta
There were also some Youth Congress volunteers among the attackers, who were opposing the presence of the Narmada Bachao Andolan leader, Medha Patkar.
Though the immediate provocation for the attack was said to be the presence of Ms. Patkar, the initiative was under threat from the activists of the Sangh Parivar who did "not want peace to be restored in the State till the minorities were driven out.''
The attackers would have found some excuse to disrupt the peace move, according to Prakash Shah and Girish Patel, two of the organisers.
Ms. Patkar was manhandled by the irate mob and had to be escorted by police to Baroda on her way to Mumbai. At least a dozen journalists and cameramen, particularly from the electronic media, were also injured in a scuffle with police. Some cameras were damaged or destroyed in the unprovoked police lathi blows.
A few workers of the Bharatiya Janata Party, trying to shield the mediapersons, also sustained injuries in the lathicharge.
While police remained "inactive" when the mob entered the ashram and disrupted the proceedings for over 30 minutes, it suddenly jolted into action when the mediapersons followed the hooligans and started taking photographs, the organisers said.
It was not clear whether police were trying to clear the venue of the hooligans but the presspersons became their target. Some of them were admitted to the hospital with multiple fractures and bruises. Among the mob were some Congress workers, known for their anti-Patkar stance.
The presence of Ms. Patkar evoked strong protests both from the Congress and the BJP circles. The State Congress president, Amarsinh Chaudhary, the former Union Minister, Urmilaben Patel, and the BJP leader and chairman of the Narmada Development Corporation, Bhupendrasinh Chudasma, criticised the organisers of the peace initiative for inviting Ms. Patkar.
While the dancer, Mallika Sarabhai, also one of the organisers, claimed that Ms. Patkar had come "uninvited,'' some others said no specific invitations were sent to any individual or organisation only a general call was issued through the e-mail to non-government organisations and others to come together to work out an agenda for combating communalism in Gujarat and other parts of the country.
Mr. Patel, among the very few from Gujarat to be actively associated with Ms. Patkar in her Narmada mission, said she was hesitant to attend the meeting as she apprehended that her presence could create disturbances. She was initially told not to attend but one of her co-activists called her, apparently after talking to some organisers, and invited her for the meeting.
Criticising the police action, the organisers alleged that police did not prevent the hooligans or take any action when some of them manhandled Ms. Patkar. She was escorted to a room by the organisers but the miscreants came after her even after police tried to sneak her out through a backdoor.
The Minister of State for Home, Gordhan Jhadaphia, while condemning the lathicharge, promised to take action against the guilty.
The organisers said the venue of the meeting was shifted to the ashram because some Parivar activists had threatened the authorities of the Gujarat Vidyapith, also a Gandhian institution, of dire consequences if the peace meeting was allowed there.
Modi regrets attack
The Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, expressed shock and regret at the police attack on journalists at Sabarmati ashram and assured them that action would be taken.
When mediapersons took up the matter with him, Mr. Modi gave them patient hearing, an official release said.
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