Coimbatore is on the boil again. Large-scale violence has been reported from across the city. Vehicles are being burnt, shops looted and religious establishments targeted.
The violence broke out following the death of C Sasikumar, the spokesperson of the Hindu Munnani in Coimbatore. Sasikumar was brutally hacked on Wednesday night, and on Thursday night, he breathed his last.
By Friday morning, Coimbatore was witnessing a bandh, which soon erupted into violence.
Journalists who have been in regular touch with Sasikumar say that he was an affable man who spoke gently, although he had been putting up pro-Hindutva messages on social media. It is still not clear what led to his hacking.
Was it religious fundamentalists? Was it personal enmity? Was it business rivalry? Several theories are floating around, and in the absence of any credible results from the police investigation on the death, they are only adding fuel to the communal fire.
The family members of Sasikumar are angry, and some of them also have close ties with the Hindu Munnani.
But even if it is not justified to expect immediate answers from the police on what seems to be a well-planned murderous attack on Sasikumar, it is imperative to ask if the police did enough to prevent violence.
Communal violence is not new to Coimbatore. We all remember the riots and police firings of November-December 1997, in which 18 Muslims were killed, and the deadly blasts of 1998, in which 58 people died. Islamic fundamentalist group Al Ummah was found guilty of orchestrating 12 bomb blasts on one single day in February 1998.
But in reality, the Hindu Munnani and Islamic fundamentalist outfits have been in play since the 1980s and early 90s. After the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992, Islamic outfits strengthened their ranks. Ever since, Coimbatore has remained a communally sensitive area.
With this being the reality, it is surprising that the police allowed a long funeral procession for Sasikumar’s body, which whipped up passions across the city and led to violence. The police did march along with tight security, but it was of no avail. Just as the procession went along, shops were targeted, petrol bombs were hurled.
Compare this with the way the police handled the funeral of Dalit youth Sankar who was killed earlier this year for his inter-caste marriage. In that case, knowing that a funeral procession would create further trouble, the police had transported his body to the crematorium and cremated the body amidst tight security.
According to ground reports, the police reinforcements from Karur, Namakkal and Madurai also came too late. They landed in Coimbatore only in the evening, when the violence had started subsiding. But even as this is being published, reports of kerosene-bombs being hurled are coming in.
With communal passions being stirred up openly – TN state president of the Hindu Munnani party Kadeswara C Subramaniam has warned of “another Gujarat” if the attacks against functionaries of their party do not stop – it would bode well for the TN government to intervene at the highest level.
The present political dispensation in Tamil Nadu has close ties with the top rung Hindu and Muslim leadership in Tamil Nadu who can intervene at this stage to prevent the situation from blowing up. A stern message from the CM’s office to the various groups stoking violence, via the political parties with links to them, be it the BJP or the Muslim parties, could put tensions to rest.
The CM does indeed rule with an iron hand, and it is time to slam down hard with it. Otherwise, we are risking another cycle of communal violence which will only cost more lives.
Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.