Bombay jubilant after judge frees Hindu extremist

Click to follow
The Independent Online

There were scenes of wild jubilation in Bombay yesterday after one of India's most feared Hindu extremist political leaders, accused of inciting ethnic violence that led to the killings of more than 1,000 people, was freed by a court.

There were scenes of wild jubilation in Bombay yesterday after one of India's most feared Hindu extremist political leaders, accused of inciting ethnic violence that led to the killings of more than 1,000 people, was freed by a court.

A judge closed the case against Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray, 73, because it related to riots eight years ago and fell outside the country's statute of limitations.

The ruling brought ecstatic cheering from thousands of Mr Thackeray's devoted followers who had surrounded his house and the court. Moments earlier it appeared that despite unprecedented police and army presence the mood would turn violent if their leader - known as the "Tiger" - was jailed.

India's commercial capital heaved a sigh of relief after more than a week on tenterhooks. The Hindu fanatics had threatened "to spill blood on the streets" if Mr Thackeray was found guilty.

Tension rose on Saturday after the Maharashtra state government sanctioned Mr Thackeray's arrest. Three Shiv Sena leaders in Delhi's central government coalition Cabinet had earlier resigned in protest.

Minutes before his arrest yesterday Mr Thackeray said he had decided to give himself up. "I want this arrest drama to be over," he said. "Ten days is long enough." But yesterday at 11am 500 police and army surrounded his house in the Dardar district of Bombay and cleared a path through the throng of chanting supporters.

Some tried to block the path of arresting officers by lying in the road, but were forced back by police wielding long bamboo batons.

Mr Thackeray said beforehand that if he got bail there would be calm, but warned of trouble should he be jailed.

In the event the judge, P B Kamble, surprised everyone by discharging Mr Thackeray almost immediately. "The accused is released after the offence is closed. The offence registered cannot be taken cognisance of because it is time-barred," he said. Mr Thackeray stood accused of inciting communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims in January 1993 after the destruction of the Babri Masjid mosque at Ayodhya by religious zealots.

He allegedly wrote inflammatory articles in the Shiv Sena newspaper, Saamna, as highlighted by the Srikrishna Commission into the rioting.

A case was filed against Mr Thackeray in July 1993, but no charges brought. The Shiv Sena won control of the Maharashtra government in 1995 and held it for four years. Only now with a Congress party coalition at the helm again were the charges laid.

The prosecutionasked the judge to ignore the delay in bringing the charge, which carries a sentence of up to three years in jail. The Maharashtra government said it would appeal to the High Court.

Before word of the ruling emerged Shiv Sena assembly members rampaged through the Maharashtra parliament, wrecking microphones in protest. Outside the court supporters punched the air and cried "Victory to Thackeray" as firecrackers added to the tumult.

Comments