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Army in Muzaffarnagar

Military force was used to curb the riots in Muzaffarnagar

After the killing of three Muslim youth in a fresh communal incident and the gang-rape of a 20-year old in a relief camp, Muzaffarnagar is back in the news for all the wrong reasons. The political games haven’t stopped and this communal conflagration shows no signs of abating.

The notice issued previously by the Allahabad High Court to Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan seeking an explanation for the unwarranted transfer of District Magistrate and Sr.Superintendent of Police from riot-affected Muzaffarnagar and for ordering the release of seven Muslims arrested for the murder of two Jats hints at a conspiracy where the ruling party, in collusion with other vested interests, precipitated the grisly riots that claimed 50 lives and displaced 40000 people. Reports of gang-rapes and molestation that are pouring in from relief camps scattered across the district are testimony to the apathy of the police force during the riots. The prompt arrests of BSP and BJP MLAs on the charge of inciting violence through inflammatory speeches, as opposed to no arrests of Muslim leaders, points to selective targeting of opposition party members. Such partisan behaviour by the administration in the aftermath of the riot has created resentment among Hindu Jats and has deepened the religious fault lines in Muzaffarnagar.

While the active participation of SP in instigating the riots remains questionable, it can certainly be accused of criminal negligence that resulted in loss of lives. The first incident of violence, in which two Muslims and one Jat lost their lives, occurred on 27 August at Kawal village. After this incident, inflammatory rallies and mahapanchayats were organized by various Jat, BJP and Muslim groups over a period of 10 days which flared emotions and resulted in the prolonged violence. If the UP administration had been more alert and curbed the rallies, these riots, which are being termed the ‘worst violence in UP in recent memory’ could have been avoided. Now, amidst reports of policemen standing idle while Jats murdered Muslims and looted Muslim homes, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav is seen issuing apologetic statements like “There are two things I will always be: socialist and secular” to the press in a desperate attempt to project himself as a secular leader.

In the case of Muzaffarnagar, the demographic make-up of the district played an important part in exacerbating the riots. The district’s population is almost equally divided between Hindus and Muslims, while Muslims are the majority in the Muzaffarnagar municipal corporation region. Muzaffarnagar, historically a hotbed of sporadic communal violence, is a victim of the machinations of the BJP, SP and Jat groups (mostly aligned with the BJP) who spotted a political opportunity in the skewed demographics of this region in light of the upcoming 2014 General Elections.

The shifting alliance of Jat farmer groups towards the BJP away from traditional bastions of Jat peasant power like the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) was a clear sign of the saffronization of western UP politics. In this political climate, the BJP and its parent organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) have stoked communal fires by employing an alarmist conspiracy theory titled ‘Love Jihad’ that takes advantage of the violent patriarchy endemic to this part of the country. ‘Love Jihad’ claims that good-looking Muslim men are trained in madrasas and equipped with mobile phones and motor-cycles enabling them to lure innocent young Hindu women into matrimony. This was painted by the BJP as a plot by Muslims to demographically overtake the Hindus. Such rhetoric has led to an erasure of caste boundaries among Hindus in the region and to the rise of a pan-Hindu consciousness among the population.

Mahapanchayat

Mahapanchayat at Sikhera village

For instance, a commonplace incident of violence in Kawal was used by local Jat and BJP leaders to spread rumours of the molestation of a Hindu girl by Muslim youth through mahapanchayats and venomous rallies that enraged the Jat community further and sparked off the riots. Such propaganda was used by vested interests not just to inflict violence, but to alter the demographics of the region. Hindu mobs that ravaged Muslim areas of Muzaffarnagar have left behind a trail of abandoned houses belonging mostly to frightened Muslim farm labourers who fled their homes at the first hint of trouble.

The SP, on the contrary, is portrayed as a namazwadi (biased towards Muslims) party by BJP. This is not without basis. The absence of Yadavs in the region around Muzaffarnagar has prompted SP, which has relied on the Yadav-Muslim equation to score political points in elections, to take the calculated risk of antagonizing the primarily Jat-dominated Hindu population in West UP with a pro-Muslim stance.

While BJP is almost certainly set to gain from the riots and the consequent communal polarization, SP has gambled its fortunes in West UP on Muslims feeling  besieged and scared enough to be left with no choice but to vote for its putative benefactor. It is early to say if SP will succeed in this calculation; but in communally charged Muzaffarnagar, this gory gamble might just pay off.

With this, a dangerous trend is seen to be emerging within Indian politics, a toxic combination of identity politics, minority appeasement and vote-bank mobilization that has erased all boundaries between traditional notions of secular and communal. The riot has been systematically institutionalized by parties with conflicting interests for political gain. As long as Indian voters continue to reward politicians for hate games, the institutionalized riot is here to stay. The win-win nature of the institutionalized riot is retrogressive, both as a mechanism for spreading fear and hatred and as a cynical tactic to polarize voters before elections. Ultimately, it is a sure and effective way to subvert the foundation of democracy itself.

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