NEW DELHI: A stampede by masses of Hindu worshippers crossing a bridge to a temple in central India left at least 91 people dead Sunday, police said. Ten more people were fighting for their lives after the tragedy on a bridge outside the temple in the central state of Madhya Pradesh which was also the scene of a deadly stampede in 2006. “The death toll has risen to 91 and 10 others are in a critical condition,”Deputy Police Inspector D.K. Arya told AFP late Sunday. Police said many of those killed in the stampede on Sunday had died after leaping off the bridge in a bid to escape the panic sparked by fears that the structure was about to collapse. Hours later, relatives were searching for missing loved ones among the bodies that were lying grouped together on the bridge. More than 100 people were being treated in a hospital for injuries including broken bones.
Police wielding sticks had charged the crowd in an effort to contain the rush, Arya said. People retaliated by hurling stones at officers, and one officer was badly injured. It was not immediately clear how many people were on the bridge when the stampede started. Local media said some 500,000 people had gone to the remote Ratangarh village temple in the Madhya Pradesh district of Datia to honor the Hindu mother goddess Durga on the last day of the popular 10-day Navaratra festival. The state has ordered a judicial inquiry into the incident. Sonia Gandhi, the leader of India’s ruling Congress Party, expressed ”shock and deep anguish over the tragic incident,” according to a party statement.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh led the condolences for the victims, which reports said included 31 women and 17 children. “On this day of festivities, our hearts and prayers are with the victims and their families,” he said in a tweet. Narendra Modi, leader of the Hindu nationalist opposition Bharatiya Janata Party which is hoping to oust Singh’s Congress government in next year’s general election, said his “prayers are with the victims and their families”. The stampede comes only weeks before Madhya Pradesh is due to hold elections for the state assembly.