'Am I wrong in presuming that UP is being seen as a new laboratory of communal politics like one has seen in Gujarat,' asks Ashutosh.
For me, born and brought up in Uttar Pradesh, communal clashes are nothing new. I have seen communal tension spreading, threatening the social fabric of society and engulfing everything in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
This was the time when even in my family it was difficult to hold a discussion without it getting ugly. There was a clear demarcation. I had many Muslim friends who were an integral part of my family but whose eyes held fear; not that they were happy with what their community leaders were doing but the atmosphere around was so vicious and scary that one felt pressurised not to speak up. Today I am again reminded of the same viciousness and can feel the same threatening silence.
I have just finished reading a report in the Indian Express about the recent communal clashes in western UP. I have also read how for the first time the Prime Minister's Office has not wished Muslim on Eid. It has also happened for the first time that the PMO did not organise an Iftar party.
Sometimes I wonder if it is deliberate or a mere slip of attention. I don't know the answer but yes I do ask myself certain questions. Is it really important to say Eid Mubarak? The answer is both a yes and a no. There have been times when I have forgotten and not wished my Muslim friends on Eid and to my surprise they have never complained. But at a time when the Centre is ruled by a political party which does not have a single Muslim MP among its 282 members, then it does give rise to doubts and it is these doubts that give birth to a Frankenstein's monster.
It is not for the first time that western UP is simmering with communal clashes. Last year also it burst into flames and more than 50 people died. Muzaffarnagar has become history as the worst case since the Gujarat riots. The riots in Muzzafarnagar were serious for two reasons:
- Muzaffarnagar was peaceful even when communalism was at its peak earlier. This district had not seen any clash between its two prominent communities -- Jats and Muslims. Both co-existed peacefully.
- Riots have always been considered an urban phenomenon, but this time it spread to rural areas and could not be controlled for weeks.
It is also true that these were not the first riots in UP since Akhilesh Yadav became chief minister of the state. More than 100 clashes, communal in nature, were recorded earlier. But what was surprising was the UP administration's callous attitude. There are serious allegations that the administration deliberately did not act in the beginning and once the situation got out of hand it could not control the riots and the damage was beyond repair.
If Hindutva forces are to be blamed for escalating the crisis then the Samajwadi Party is also to be blamed for playing with fire and allowing communal polarisation so that it could consolidate Muslim votes. And in this dangerous game the Samajwadi party lost badly; a party that wanted to improve its Lok Sabha tally recorded its worst-ever performance and the BJP emerged as the real winner.
Now the game is being repeated again in western UP. Assembly by-elections for 12 seats are about to happen. And as per the Indian Express more than 70 percent of the communal clashes happened around these assembly segments.
Like Muzaffarnagar, here also rural areas were the centre of the carnage. If in Muzaffarnagar clashes broke the unity between Jats and Muslims, the strong social base of Ajit Singh, then recent clashes disintegrated the coalition between Dalits and Muslims, strong supporters of the Bahujan Samaj Party.
Is there an emerging pattern here? Will the BJP again be the beneficiary in the by-elections like it was in the parliamentary elections? If it is so, then, am I wrong in presuming that UP is being seen as a new laboratory of communal politics like one has seen in Gujarat? But why blame the new dispensation in the BJP?
UP had been susceptible to communal politics for a long time and if the BJP benefited from the Ayodhya agitation then Mulayam Singh Yadav too consolidated his social base and loved to be called Maulana Mulayam. There was communal polarisation on both sides and both did it for the votes.
But the situation has changed now. The balance has broken down. In the 1990s, the BJP was nowhere near the majority and the Congress was not in such shambles. Despite the demise of Communism at the global level, it was still thriving in India and was ably led by two of its brightest leaders, Jyoti Basu and Harkishen Singh Surjeet. Now the Left is dead and it has no will to lead the liberal forces. There is a serious crisis.
In an atmosphere where secularism is no longer politically expedient and to be right is the new political currency, I wouldn't be surprised if UP slips into another communal abyss. But more dangerous is the silence of liberal voices. Mayawati, Mulayam and the Congress are incapable of giving a counter narrative to communal politics and the intellectual class is too timid to build a counter argument.
But I am not pessimistic. I am reminded of British journalist Don Taylor's words: 'There is resilience about India which seems an assurance of survival. There is something which can only be described as an Indian spirit.'
I trust this Indian spirit.
Image: Policemen patrol Kanth town near Moradabad, UP. Photograph: PTI Photo
Ashutosh quit journalism to join the Aam Aadmi Party and unsuccessfully contested the recent Lok Sabha poll from New Delhi.