Six days after over 250 Muslim houses were burnt to ashes in Uttar Pradesh's Meerut, the local police on Monday, March 11, arrested a member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), named Shahid Bharti. He has been accused of leading the mob.
Sources told NewsClick that during the police investigation, Bharti has also taken the names of others who were involved in this and has admitted the crime. He claimed that Asma alias Kaali, wife of Ishtiaq—another accused who was arrested earlier—had set the jhuggis (slums) ablaze.
Ishtiaq and Abbas were already in police custody in connection with the case. Shahid Bharti was the third accused out of the total 30 identified among 80 suspects shortlisted by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) with the help of videos and eight photographs which were reported by the Hindi daily Amar Ujala.
Meanwhile, the BJP is making all attempts to distance itself from the incident.
On March 6, around 4 PM at Meerut’s Bhusa Mandi, the officials of the Cantonment Board along with local police had come to evict encroachers. Soon after, a clash broke out, reportedly between locals of Bhusa Mandi and the police teams. The police alleged that the mob went on a rampage after authorities tried to remove the encroachments. However, a local social activist told NewsClick that it was a targeted attack, as it was a Muslim-majority area.
Also Read: Over 250 Muslim Houses Turned to Ashes in Meerut
Speaking to NewsClick, Vijay Gupta, Sub Inspector of Sadar Bazar, Bhusa Mandi, said, "Total five accused have been arrested so far. These people were responsible for burning down the slums. They have been booked under Indian Penal Code (IPC) of 307, 436 147, 148, 149, 426, 303, 504, 506. They were sent to the district court. These people were involved in the selling of the liquor in the area."
Gupta further added that Asma alias Kaali is also involved in the violenceand she is the one who set the slums ablaze along with the people already arrest.
Sushil Gautam, a social activist based in Meerut, who had visited the spot after the incident, told NewsClick, "Its beyond my thinking how BJP is distancing itself from Shahid Bharti, saying that he is not from the party while there are hoardings all over the city of him posing with BJP leaders. He is the office-bearer of BJP's minority wing. Even though the situation is under control now, the Muslim youths who were street vendors are hiding out of fear. Isn't it ironical that the houses of Muslims were burnt down, yet now they are hiding themselves out of fear of being arrested?”
"People from the Deoband came to help them. BSP's Haji Yakoob Qureshi has given Rs 25 lakh to distribute equally among those affected," Gautam stated.
When questioned about the reason behind the violence, Gautam said, "There was no issue earlier, it was made by the police and BJP leaders. The people living here did not start living just recently. They bought the plot from a property dealer long back. The issue was created by the officials of the Cantonment Board who came along with the local police.”
He went on to add, “They were demanding bribe from a person who was building his house in the area and when he refused, he was beaten up. Following this, clashes broke out and in the resulting violence, the slum was burnt down with the help of BJP leaders who were involved in the plan. There is a conspiracy behind this violence. The most important thing is soon after the violence, police was not ready to accept that the slum had been set ablaze but later they accepted that it had happened."