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The Muzaffarnagar Riots: Who Are Setting UP Ablaze?

Prabir Purkayastha |

The riots in Muzaffarnagar brings back memories when I was a young boy studying in Allahabad. A park opposite my house was the venue of a Jan Sangh meeting. I still remember the hate filled speech against Muslims, and incitement to mass riots over a local clash among Hindu and Muslim youth in Aligarh. There was the same twist to the tale, the allegation of women being harassed and the same hate filled appeal to save the honour of “our women”. Nothing has changed in the last 50 years, not the mindset, not the modus operandi of the RSS and its front organisations – the Jan Sangh then and the BJP now.

What is strange to me is the reaction of the media, much of it secular. For them, the act of commission – of those promoting riots and the acts of omission, the failure of the SP government in UP to protect the Muslims –have been condemned equally. Of course, SP's failure in preventing riots needs to be condemned and condemned strongly, but it cannot by any means be equated with those who have instigated the riots. The riots have killed officially around 50 and probably many more, apart from more than 30,000 – again by official count – being rendered homeless.

Why are we having riots now in UP? Is it just a sudden outbreak of violence accidentally sparked off by some incidents? Or is it part of a deeper agenda connected to the 2014 elections in which UP and Bihar are going to make or mar the future of Modi's prime ministerial prospects?

Image Courtesy: First Post

Let us look at the dots, without connecting them right now. Amit Shah, deeply implicated in encounter killings and riots in Gujarat, takes over as the key person from BJP in charge of UP. We soon find increasing communal tensions in UP, particularly in the Jat belt of western UP. The last year has seen a sharp increase in communal tensions in UP. Over 50 communal clashes have taken place over the last 12 months, with nearly a dozen of them being categorised as major communal disturbance. Are we to believe that Amit Shah taking over and Narendra Modi's prime ministerial bid has nothing to do with all this?

BJP and Modi know they cannot win in the country without carrying UP and Bihar. There is no chance for this to happen on the basis of normal politics and governance. Don't forget BJP ran UP for some time before being relegated to a distant third by SP and BSP. It needed a new game plan. And this is of course its old game plan – communal riots.

The clash in which one Muslim youth was killed followed by killing of 2 Jat youths took place on 27th August. The riots started after the Jat Mahapanchayat of 7th September, clearly showing its role in starting the riots. In the Mahapanchayat, the Tikait brothers (sons of Mahendrasingh Tikait) , and two BJP leaders -- Hukum Singh, Sangeet Som – made incendiary speeches. Its is from here that gangs armed with guns and other weapons started the riots, first in Muzaffarnagar, later spreading to rural areas.

While the Jat belt had been by and large the bastion of the late Choudhary Charan Singh and his son Ajit Singh (RLD), BJP has made some in roads over the last 2 decades. There were communal riots in the area after Babri Masjid demolition. Even with this, by and large, the Jats and the Muslims were not split on communal lines. Mahendra Singh Tikait, the peasant leader and the founder of BKU, and the RJD, both had a base amongst the Jats and the Muslims. With elder Tikait's death and the taking over of BKU by the two younger Tikaits, there is a change in calculations. Rakesh and Naresh Tikait are now hobnobbing with the BJP.

Stoking of communal fires has been and remains the key instrument in the hands of Hindutva forces. Having failed to rouse passions of Ram temple – a ploy they have tried again and again in UP, they have now fallen back on their time tested instrument -- communal riots.

The Muslim community and most of the secular forces are justifiably angry with the SP government's inability and unwillingness to crack down hard on those instigating riots. A Mahapanchayat of Jats should never have been allowed in the background of communal tensions. But to put the SP and the BJP in the same basket is to completely misunderstand what is happening in UP.

The argument that the SP also wanted communal riots to cash in on the minority vote is manifestly wrong. SP has lost heavily. It is the administration and the failure of stopping riots that is to be squarely laid at its door. This shows the incompetence of the SP and its young chief minister, the Yadav scion. But to believe that it is equally complicit in the riots is to give the BJP a free pass for engineering the riots.

If SP is to redeem itself, it must immediately gear up its administration. It must – at least in the future – stop all hate activities. It must also take steps to build broad based peoples committees all over UP that will work with the administration to stop any communalising of the communities. It must try and build bridges with other non-BJP parties and even its bete noire, the BSP to see that BJP's attempts to set UP ablaze do not succeed.

How the other parties act and how the civil society groups react will determine the future of UP, at least in the near future. And as a start, people must face up to what the plan of the Hindutva forces is. Not intellectual analysis of changing urban and rural India, plague on both the BJP and SP, but identifying who would gain the most from riots and therefore who are the real culprits. This is what needs to be identified and fought.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the author's personal views and do not necessarily represent the views of Newsclick.




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