New Delhi: Almost 19 years after the communal riots in Bihar’s Bhagalpur district, the Union government said on Thursday that it will pay a compensation of Rs29.81 crore to families of the 844 dead and the 22 injured in the clashes.
It will pay Rs3.5 lakh each to the next of kin of those killed and Rs1.25 lakh each to those who were injured in October 1989.
The government’s move comes ahead of general elections in 2009, and the compensation is similar to that paid to victims of the Gujarat riots in 2002 and anti-Sikh riots in New Delhi in 1984.
“It’s good that the Centre has finally taken the decision,” said Subrata Mukherjee, a professor at the University of Delhi’s department of political science. “But unless there is parity between the compensation paid to riot victims of all communities, and unless the process is made time-bound and mechanical, such decisions are bound to be politically suspect.”
While most victims in the Bhagalpur riot were Muslims, just as in the Gujarat riots, the Bihar riots happened when a government led by the Congress party was in power.
Analysts say the Congress lost its appeal among Muslims in the state and Lalu Prasad, then a leader of the Janata Dal, gained in the electoral stakes.
When Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United), one of the spin-offs of the Janata Dal, became chief minister in late 2005, he also sought to woo the minority community by reopening cases relating to these riots, and demanding additional compensation from the Union government.
The principal opposition party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, which is an ally of the government in Bihar, also supported the demand for additional compensation. “We have been saying all along that victims of all communal riots since 1984, regardless of their faith, should be treated equally,” said BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar.
A Congress party spokesperson, who did not wish to be identified, refused to comment on the timing of the decision.
“There is no particular reason for announcing the package now, except that the Bihar chief minister had been raising this issue, and the cabinet also felt it must dispose of the matter,” said a government official on condition of anonymity.