Related topics

Democracy Falters as Indian Violence Flares at Polls With AM-India-Election, Bjt

May 20, 1991

--- By VIJAY JOSHI Associated Press Writer

MURADNAGAR, India (AP) - Thousands of people had jammed a school playground, talking about the crops and the cattle as they waited to vote.

Suddenly a shrill yell was heard: ″Kill that bastard 3/8″

The shout silenced the hum of village gossip and started a sequence of violence repeated in several Indian villages and towns that voted in national elections Monday.

In Muradnagar, a prosperous farming village of 35,000 Hindus and Muslims in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, voting started peacefully at 7 a.m.

Two hours later, supporters of rival candidates were accusing each other of stuffing ballot boxes.

One man was allegedly caught stamping a pile of ballot papers. Dozens of hefty men dragged him out of the classroom that served as a polling booth and pummeled him. Some hit him on the back with their elbows.

″This will teach you to stamp ballots, you scoundrel 3/8″ one assailant shouted.

A dozen policemen waving sticks and blowing fiercely on traffic whistles broke up the fight. Muslim women shrieked and scurried, their colored ″burqas,″ or veiled cloaks, flying.

″Run, run. Why should we risk our lives for these goons,″ said one man, racing toward the door.

The beaten man, his shirt torn, also ran out of the polling center. Witnesses said he was a supporter of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress Party.

Townspeople alleged Congress was trying to stuff the ballot box because the district is a stronghold of the Janata Dal Party of V.P. Singh, who succeeded Gandhi as prime minister in 1989.

About 15 minutes after the melee on the playground, shouting echoed down the street. Supporters of the two rival candidates were hurling stones at each other.

Someone climbed on a Congress Party car and set it on fire. As the flames grew, so did the passion of the crowd. Soon five more cars and seven motor scooters were ablaze and tires were exploding from the heat.

By the time a fire truck plowed through the black smoke an hour later, the crowd had moved on. Battle lines were drawn elsewhere. Police said partisans clashed near five other polling stations.

Two hours later, the wounded began arriving at the police station where authorities had set up a first aid center. The two doctors were unable to cope with the number of serious casualties.

At least four had deep head wounds. Blood matted their hair and stiffened the cloth of their shirts. One boy’s face was covered with his vomit and blood.

″This one won’t survive. Vomiting with head injury is most serious,″ said a doctor, who sought to have the victim transferred to a hospital 5 miles away. A report on the victim’s condition was not immediately available.

Outside, on a national highway, Janata Dal candidate Mohammad Shahnawaz Ansari screamed curses at his rival as hundreds of his supporters lay on the road, blocking traffic with boulders and iron bars.

″Democracy always falters when we go to polls. But at least it doesn’t fall,″ said a police officer, leaning on his bamboo stick as he waited for reinforcements to clear the road.

AP-DS-05-20-91 1230EDT

Update hourly