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Gandhigiri, but detention too: How UP Police handled ‘twin challenge’ of Agnipath, Prophet rows

UP Police engaged in dialogue Friday with youngsters protesting against Agnipath scheme. However, 260 people were detained after arson & violence were reported in some districts.

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Lucknow: On Friday, Uttar Pradesh Police faced two challenges: Protests against the Union government’s controversial Agnipath military recruitment scheme, and a high alert around mosques for jummah namaz (Friday prayers) in light of the row triggered by two former BJP spokespersons’ controversial remarks about Prophet Muhammad, which sparked violent protests last Friday.

So, UP Police attempted different approaches in different districts to maintain law and order.

The state police, which had been holding peace meetings and foot patrols, besides using drones for surveillance, ahead of Friday prayers, also held talks with the young Agnipath protesters who took to the roads in Varanasi, Ballia, Aligarh.

Public property at the Varanasi Cantonment Railway Station and bus stations was reportedly damaged during the protests with similar incidents reported from other districts as well. In Aligarh, protesters allegedly set fire to the Jattari Police Chowki and some police vehicles.

“They are a few of our own children,” said Varanasi Police Commissioner A. Satish Ganesh to the media. “Fallacies regarding the Agnipath scheme have been spread among them. We explained to them that Agnipath will only determine 3 per cent of the recruitment, the rest 97 per cent will be traditional, long-term recruitments.”

However, Prashant Kumar, Additional Director General (ADG) of Police (law and order), later told the media that that as many as 250 people had been detained in connection with the protests and that they suspected the involvement of some organisation. UP Police later updated the number to 260.

In Lucknow, police personnel, led by Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Chiranjeev Nath Sinha, were seen employing ‘Gandhigiri’ — a term used to signify a way of life based on the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, popularised by the Bollywood movie Lage Raho Munnabhai — and offering roses to those who came to offer Friday prayers at the Teele Wali Masjid. The site had seen protests by Muslim youths last Friday.

In the backdrop of the violence witnessed on 10 June in several UP districts over the controversial remarks made by former BJP spokespersons Nupur Sharma (now suspended) and Naveen Jindal (now expelled) about Prophet Muhammad, the UP Police were on high alert and had been regularly communicating the steps being taken to maintain law and order in the state.

A statement issued by the UP Police Thursday said a total of 357 people had been arrested so far for the 10 June violence, and 13 FIRs lodged in Firozabad, Ambedkar Nagar, Moradabad, Saharanpur, Prayagraj, Hathras, Aligarh, Lakhimpur Kheri and Jalaun.

Meanwhile, in Ghaziabad, the police received a lot of heat on social media after videos and photographs of a bulldozer purportedly plying between marching police personnel and a police SUV went viral Thursday. The police have denied that the bulldozer was part of the police contingent.

“The bulldozer suddenly came to the spot. It was passing by for some work and somehow got videographed with the march,” Circle Officer Ghaziabad/Indirapuram Abhay Kumar Mishra told ThePrint.

Also read: Financial aid, jobs, education drives — How BJP wants CMs to ‘placate Agnipath protesters’

Giving peace a chance

Speaking to media about the Friday prayers, ADG (law and order) Prashant Kumar said that there had been no information of any untoward incident from anywhere, and the namaz was conducted safely due to the efforts of all religious leaders and the police administration.

UP Police had held peace meetings with Muslim religious leaders ahead of the Friday prayers across different districts while flag and foot marches were held in several districts, including Gorakhpur, Saharanpur, Etawah and Ghaziabad.

Drone cameras were used for surveillance in Kanpur, where clashes erupted on 3 June, and Prayagraj, which witnessed violence last Friday.

It was the march in Ghaziabad that landed the police in trouble after it posted a video and photos of a contingent of personnel patrolling on foot and a police SUV in Kaushambi.

The video, which ThePrint has a copy of, went viral. In one of the purported images, Ghaziabad police personnel, including an inspector-rank officer, can be seen posing with a bulldozer.

The visuals of a bulldozer in Ghaziabad come at a time when the Supreme Court is hearing a plea over the alleged illegal use of bulldozers for demolition of homes of those accused in the riots against BJP’s Sharma and Jindal.

(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)

This report has been updated to clarify that Kanpur witnessed violence on 3 June, and to correct a typo.

Also read: ‘Will be retired at 24’ — Bihar youth on Agnipath grouse as violent protests, arson go on


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