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Uma Bharti surrenders over riot case in Hubli

Gulf News

A firebrand Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader was detained yesterday after she quit as chief minister of Madhya Pradesh and travelled halfway across to country to give herself up on charges over a deadly religious riot a decade ago.

Uma Bharti, an influential figure in the BJP, was remanded in custody for two weeks until her pre-trial hearing over the charges, which include attempted murder and inciting a riot.

The case in the southern town of Hubli stems from a 1994 row over a public field where Muslims often prayed.

Authorities in the state of Karnataka ignored the case for years. But a court this month issued a fresh warrant for Bharti's arrest for defying a police ban in 1994 and leading hardliners in a bid to raise the national flag to press their claim to the land.

Communal clashes followed the flag incident and six people died when police opened fire to disperse the rioters.

It is unclear why the issue resurfaced now. Karnataka police made no attempt to arrest Bharti when she attended a public gathering in the state after the latest warrant was issued.

But on Monday, amid nationwide publicity, she resigned as chief minister of Madhya Pradesh and boarded a train to Hubli, where she received a hero's welcome.

Accompanied by police and supporters and wearing her trademark saffron robes, Bharti known for her fiery speeches, surrendered at a local court in Hubli which remanded her to 14 days in judicial custody, television reports showed. She did not apply for bail, police said.

The former federal minister known for her fiery rhetoric says she is innocent and accuses the Congress party-led state government of a political witch hunt.

But Congress, the BJP's main rival across india, has ruled Karnataka since 1999 and never before pressed the case.

Bharti played a key role in the BJP's rise to national power on a hardline Hindu platform. The party was swept from office in New Delhi in May but still holds six states and is looking to fight back in a series of upcoming state polls.

The first is on October 13 in the crucial state of Maharashtra.

Bharti faces life imprisonment – 14 years in India – and disqualification from sitting in Parliament if convicted. But legal sources say such cases are notoriously hard to convict.