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Tuesday, Apr 23, 2002

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Where `back to normal' means more mayhem

Vinod Mathew

AHMEDABAD, April 22

AFTER one week of relative respite, the merchants of death and destruction are at it again in Ahmedabad.

This has put paid to hopes that the worst was over and the issue at hand was one of rebuilding mutual trust and confidence amongst the two embattled communities. Thus, as someone pointed out, if it is said that things are back to normal in Ahmedabad, one should not accept the statement quite literally.

Even as the Union Defence Minister, Mr George Fernandes, who was on an extended tour mission to the State to impart a `healing touch' castigated the media for "projecting things wrongly" and "blowing out of proportion small things," Ahmedabad erupted once again on Sunday leaving 16 dead and over a 100 injured.

There was no let-up on Monday as the arson and violence spread to areas adjoining the river Sabarmati in the old city, taking up the number of dead in the last two days to 23. With this, the overall toll in the post-Godhra violence, as per official figures, has gone up to 875.

Curfew has been imposed in areas like Shahpur, Dariapur and Prem Darwaza, in addition to Gomtipur, Bapunagar and Rakhial where curfew was clamped on Sunday.

Though Monday's mayhem did not spill over to the other side of the river, which is the business hub of the city, there was widespread panic in the various offices and other establishments leading to flight of staff by afternoon.

The sight of burning shanties, pitched battle along the riverbed with sounds of crude bombs exploding and shouts for help became real for the people hitherto unaffected by the violence that had otherwise been limited to small ghettos predominantly populated by the labour class.

Ironically, the Gujarat Government had gone in for an advertisement released in national dailies across the country on Monday, countering the "malicious propaganda and untruths tarnishing Gujarat's image."

Saying "enough is enough," it went on to negate the "campaign" against Gujarat by making points such as how no untoward incident occurred in 18,300 villages in the State, how production remained uninterrupted in all big industrial units, General Motors having made an additional capital investment of Rs 500 crore and police being assisted by army within 16 hours, after February 27.

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