Uttar Pradesh and its incumbent young Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav are in the news again but for the wrong reasons. The recent spurt in communal conflagrations with its epicenter in Muzaffar Nagar district of western Uttar Pradesh is alarming. The trust deficit in the state government which has failed to protect life and property of commons; and rather is seen to be playing polarization vote bank politics keeping an eye on the Lok Sabha elections has further disrupted the social fabric of the district and the surrounding areas.
The most pertinent feature that differentiates Muzzafar Nagar communal violence from the other such incidences in the recent past is that communal hostilities, aggression and antagonism has penetrated deep into the hinterland and rural areas. As a result, the Muzaffar Nagar riots became the first incident in Uttar Pradesh after Babri Masjid demolition in 1992 in which Army had to be deployed.
A few weeks back “proactive intervention” of young chief minister suspended the I.A.S officer Durga Shakti Nagpal for demolishing contentious mosque wall on the pretext that this could trigger communal tensions. Ironically, the swiftness and hyper-sensitivity for communal harmony as displayed by the state government in the suspension of Durga Shakti Nagpal was absolutely missing in Muzzafar Nagar. Rather it is alleged that state government and the bureaucratic apparatus of Muzzafar Nagar deliberately allowed few petty crimes to get escalated and gain communal colors so that the incumbent government can get political mileage in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
The demographic pattern of western Uttar Pradesh has made it vulnerable to communal violence. While Muslims constitute about 19 per cent of the population in the state, in western Uttar Pradesh they account for about 33.2 percent of the population. Muzzafar Nagar and the surrounding districts are also popularly known as Jatland because the bulk of populations in these districts are Jat (Hindu) peasants. The region is bestowed with one of the most fertile land in the world for agriculture. Apart from the flourishing agriculture the region is also industrially rich. As a result the Jats and Muslims of the region are rich and politically influential.
Ch. Charan Singh emerged as the undisputed leader of the region in the decades of 60s and 70s. The unprecedented support that he got from the Jat peasantry in the region made him the epitome of “Kisan and peasant movement” not only in Uttar Pradesh but across the country. By his popular agenda based on emancipation of agricultural labors, egalitarian vision, socialist appeal and political acumen he was able to hold Muslims close. Unfortunately, after his death none of the leader of the region and the state has been able to match his stature and vision. Various political parties which are keen to extend their mass base in the region have adhered to the polarization politics to gain the political mileage. The communal conflagrations in the region can be analyzed in this context.
Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bharitya Janta Party (BJP) are the two political parties which are forerunner in the state to gain the political mileage out of the divisive politics based on polarization. BJP is keen to extend its mass base by refueling the Ram Janambhumi issue for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections which revolves around the concept of Hindutava. The SP is the mirror opposite of the BJP. SP is eager to leverage on the fear psychosis of Muslims and project itself as the savior of Muslims. The two parties have officially declared each other as the arch rivals; however their respective fundamental political agenda converge on characteristics like polarization politics and communal tensions. Some of the critics have therefore termed the Muzzafar Nagar riots as result of “match fixing” between SP and BJP.
Since February 2012 when SP government came to power in Uttar Pradesh there have been at least 27 communal incidents in the state. There have been instances of SP leaders shielding criminals an interfering with police functioning a tendency that sap the state’s powers to deal with trouble like the violence in Muzzafar Nagar.
The slow reflexes of the SP government, inaction and interference with the police functioning should be squarely blamed for the Muzzafar Nagar riots. Few petty crimes were allowed to escalate and gain communal colors. Despite of Section 144 in the district, the Panchayats of Hindus and Muslims took place in the district in which lakhs of people participated. Shamefully, the leaders across the party line provoke people and even adhered to the hate speech. The propaganda that involves sharing fake videos on social media further added fuel to the fire. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that “SP government was fiddling while Muzaffar Nagar was burning”.
The minority minister of Uttar Pradesh and senior SP leader Azam Khan has openly expressed his anger and has criticized the state government and the district administration for its inability to provide security to the life and property of the people. Another senior leader of SP from Muzaffar Nagar claimed on a national news channel that during the riots “police did not cooperate to stop the violence”.
Effects of Polarization Politics
The politics based on communalism and polarization evokes primordial identities based on religion, caste, region, ethnicity etc. The electoral patterns get greatly influenced by these identities. In such surcharged scenarios the political agenda based on competitive politics, propaganda, fear psychosis and hatred magnetize the mass imagination. The situation like this is highly precarious for a diverse, multilingual and multicultural country like India.
The politics based on communalism and polarization is not just against the secular ethos of our constitution but is also anti developmental in nature. The political agenda primarily shaped by the identities based on religion, caste etc hijacks the vital issues related to development, growth and governance. It also results into other malaises like criminalization of politics and use of money and muscle power in the elections. In nut shell the resultant system that arises out of such politics provides only shadow rather than substance of the democracy. In long run such politics result into alienation and carve a niche for the anti-national forces.
The recent riots were easily avoidable. The criminal negligence of the Government is primarily responsible for such a violence which took more than 40 precious lives. Both majority communalism and minority communalism are equally bad for the county. If both BJP and SP are preparing for 2014 elections like this, the country will witness many more violent clashes.
Moreover the politicians who made hate speeches and distributed fake videos or propagated falsehood should be booked. The Election Commission should be given more powers so that such politicians can be banned from contesting elections. Anyone found guilty of making hate speeches should be banned from electoral politics for at least 5 years.
Meantime the UP Government should give a free hand to its officers so that they can discharge their duties effectively. Political interference is the biggest problem of UP today. Too many power centres are spoiling the show in UP right now. Akhilesh should break free from the shackles of his father and uncles and govern the state properly.
Certainly the state of UP and its 200 million people deserves better.