Panic subsides in Karnataka, people flee Maharashtra

Mumbai/Bangalore: A mass flight triggered by rumours of imminent attacks on people from the northeast in Karnataka ebbed Thursday, but many from the region began fleeing neighbouring Maharashtra.

Hours after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Karnataka Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar intervened, a semblance of sanity returned to the state, arresting what had threatened to become an unprecedented exodus.

But the numbers who have already left has touched some 8,000, officials said.

The flight began Wednesday after rumours that people from the northeast would be attacked to avenge the ethnic violence in Assam gripped Karnataka — a state home to many thousands from all over India.

As many as 5,000 men and women, mainly students, professionals and workers, packed two special trains that left Bangalore for Guwahati late Wednesday, taking the authorities unawares.

More left Thursday night by more special trains.

It was all blamed on widespread rumours that northeastern people would be targeted on Eid day Monday to avenge the killings of Muslims by tribals in Assam.

Even as authorities brought the situation under control in Karnataka, people from Assam and other northeastern states began to exit Maharashtra, officials said.

Since early this week, an estimated 1,500 have returned home from Mumbai, Pune and Nashik, police and railway officials said.

While over 300 Assamese left early Thursday from Pune and Nashik each, another 400 quit Mumbai Wednesday.

Pune Assistant Commissioner of Police Sanjeev Singhal said there was no cause for people to leave.

“They are apparently influenced by some MMSes being circulated,” he said.

Last week, at least 10 people from the northeast, mostly students, were brutally beaten, sending shockwaves in the community. Thirteen people have been nabbed for the attacks.

According to Paban Kumar Kataky, president of the Assam Association of Mumbai, about 15,000 Assamese live, work or study in Mumbai. Another 5,000 are in Pune and Nashik each.

Besides, there are around 10,000 people from the other northeastern states spread out across Mumbai and Maharahstra.

Kataky told IANS that a majority of them worked with private companies or in the hospitality industry. The young were mainly students.

After a telephonic conversation with the prime minister, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde urged people from the northeast living in Karnataka not to be misled by rumours.

The prime minister told Shettar and Shinde to provide security to people from the northeast, Manmohan Singh’s office told IANS.

Offcials said hundreds had decided to stay back in the city.

On Thursday, a group of Congress MPs from the northeast met party chief Sonia Gandhi. One MP told IANS that Gandhi shared their concern and blamed “vested interests” for the rumours.

Shettar Thursday appealed to northeastern people not to leave Karnataka.

“Our police will offer full protection to you all. There is no reason to worry. Believe in our government and not in rumours,” he told a delegation of some 200 students.

Deputy Chief Minister R. Ashoka announced stepped up security in areas populated by people from the northeast.

According to police, about 240,000 people from the northeast live in Bangalore, a city of nine million.

Shettar said: “Bangalore is not only cosmopolitan but also a safe city for anyone, especially those from other states.”

As regular trains to Howrah and Guwahati were booked for over a week due to holidays, those desperate to quit Bangalore Wednesday bought unreserved tickets to board the first available train to Assam.

Some left for Chennai to take trains from there.

In Bangalore, Muslim leaders and groups appealed to people from the northeast to stay put in Karnataka.

“Don’t leave Bangalore, dear Assamese friends. We love you!” and “Bangalore is safe. No need to fear. Stay back!” read some of the placards carried by 50 student activists at the Bangalore railway station.


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