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The danger signal from the Muzaffarnagar riots

Last updated on: September 19, 2013 18:13 IST

Army trucks patrol the streets of MozaffarnagarIt is rare for communal riots to spread to rural areas. The UP riot is the first time after the September 1969 Gujarat riots that a rural area have been affected. Electoral politics which divide society in majority/minority, going on since the early 1990s, is a major contributing factor to this heightened tension between communities, says Colonel (retd) Anil Athale in the first of a two part series.

The end August and early September events in western Uttar Pradesh, where a minor incident sparked riots that spread to rural areas ought to ring alarm bells. In 1947, a close to 20-lakh-strong, efficient army could not prevent massacre of close to five lakh people in post-partition riots.

As someone who has experience of dealing with riots, one is absolutely clear that even the best efforts of the army cannot prevent killings once rural areas get affected by the communal virus. The Muzaffarnagar riots in Uttar Pradesh in first week of September were qualitatively different than similar violence elsewhere. It is for the first time after the September 1969 Gujarat riots that a rural area have been affected by inter-community violence.

At a personal level, this author, a great fan of the great singer Begum Akhtar, was horrified to know that even she was targeted. The 1969 Gujarat riots were indeed reminiscent of 1947 carnage as even trains were stopped and people pulled out and killed. Though on a smaller scale, what happened in Muzaffarnagar is also closer to the riots in Assam last year or even earlier like the Nellie massacre in which on February 18, 1983, armed mobs attacked and killed as many as 1,800 Muslims (unofficial claims: 3,300).

The number is double of the worst riots in independent India, at Bhagalpur in 1989. Migration of thousands of persons (mainly from the minority community) from their village homes is reminiscent of the fleeing of Kashmiri Pandits from valley or the Bodo/Muslim forced migration in Assam.

Independent India has seen many riots for various causes ranging from language, religion or caste issues. But these were mainly in urban areas. The city gives a degree of anonymity and it is generally the underworld that is at the forefront of the violence.

A socio-biologist has described the periodic violence in cities as part of the ‘urban pathology’. Cramped living quarters, daily brush with overcrowding and skyscrapers co-existing with slums; are some of the characteristics of this urban phenomenon.

In comparison rural areas are, by and large, self governed entities and there is hardly any worthwhile police presence at the village level. Peace is maintained as a ‘social compact’. There are many causes that have changed the rural social landscape and social compact; ranging from rapid communication to birth of new category -- ‘Ruburnisation’ (sort urbanised rural area).

But in case of India, electoral politics dividing society in majority/minority, going on since the early 1990s, is a major contributing factor to this heightened tension between communities. What seems to be happening in 2013 is that the fruits of this poisonous tree seem to have matured in form of estrangement between communities.

It has for long been the political strategy of so called ‘secularists’ to give appearance of taking special care of minorities. India is the only democratic country where the minorities demand and get, not just equal but special rights.

The present Indian prime minister, in line with this strategy, once famously stated that the minorities have the first right over national resources! In a democracy that believes in equality of opportunity this is indeed a strange formulation. No one can deny that all citizens of India, irrespective of majority or minority, have equal rights over the nation’s resources. The PM and his party’s approach of ‘special’ rights and priority for minorities smacks of Apartheid like policies that the now defunct South Africa had followed.

The ostensible reason for these bizarre policies is a Sachar Committee report that found that the Muslim minority in India scores low on all socio, economic and educational ratings and is left behind the rest of the society. The statistics are true in a general sense. But the good judge forgot one basic fact -- Muslims in India are mainly concentrated in UP and Bihar, states that score low on all development indicators!

If Justice Sachar was to take a look at the same stats at a state level, he would have found that in southern and western India, the differences in developmental indicators are not that stark. In fact in states like Kerala, the Muslims may possibly score higher than the others on the economic front, thanks to the Gulf jobs! Similarly the score for all communities in the states of Bihar and UP are lower than national average on all counts!

But even granting good intentions to the learned judge, the conclusion that this backwardness is due to ‘discrimination’ or oppression is a giant leap of imagination. The backwardness of Muslims is largely a product of large families, lack of interest in education, women illiteracy and frozen social practices. In none of these the majority has any role whatsoever. These ills in any case cannot be eradicated by legislation or quotas.

Not satisfied with the fake ‘appeasement’, since the minority began to see through the dishonesty of it all, the ruling cabal then has embarked upon a new and dangerous strand of ‘demonisation’ of the majority community. This became necessary as the minorities began to question as to why their lot was still the same when the secularist’s ruled for most of the post 1947 period.

In the 1980s, alarmed over the pent up demand of restoration of holy places of the majority, a sustained campaign was launched to distort and deny Indian history. The leftist, westernised elite based in Delhi captured the media high ground and began to question the very authenticity of past memories of the majority.

This despite the overwhelming archaeological evidence dating back thousands of years, found strewn all over the subcontinent and South East Asia (Indonesia, Cambodia and Sri Lanka). A minister some years ago even submitted an affidavit in the Supreme Court that Sri Ram was a ‘fictional’ character!

Let me give a sample of the kind of arrogant and ignorant drivel that is churned out by leftist bastions in Delhi to ridicule the majority and its culture/history/philosophy and language. In an op-ed piece in the Times of India of August 17 ‘social scientist’ Depankar Gupta  mockingly wrote: 'Believe it or not it is also claimed that Robert Oppenheimer was humming Sanskrit shlokas at around the time he invented the atom bomb'.

Please refer to page 183 of Brighter than a Thousand Suns by Robert Jungk (original in German published 1956 translated by James Cleugh, Penguin 1960), I quote the scene as described by the author when the first atomic bomb was tested, "Oppenheimer was clinging to one of the uprights in the control room. A passage from the Bhagvad Gita, the sacred epic of the Hindus flashed into his mind, If the radiance of thousand suns; were to burst into the sky, that would be like, the splendour of the mighty one. Sri Krishna, the exalted one, lord of the fate of mortals, had uttered the phrase..."

Brighter than a Thousand Suns (phrase taken from the much derided Sanskrit shloka) is regarded as the most authentic and well researched work on the birth of nuclear age. The author of that book had interviewed Robert Oppenheimer in course of the research for this book.

This is just a sample of the kind of sustained assault on Indian past has been the hallmark of the Delhi establishment for some time. To be included in charmed circles and be labelled ‘progressive’ you have to deny, ridicule anything and everything Indian. Our colonial masters taught us ‘Ours is history, yours is mythology!’

Their followers seem busy in denying and denigrating Indian past. Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister believed that India is tied in a ‘silken thread’ of cultural unity. This essential ingredient of Indian unity is being torn to shreds under the tutelage of his granddaughter-in-law.

For last decade or so, the nation is under the leadership of a ‘reluctant’ Indian citizen (the UPA chairperson was in India from 1967 but chose to take up Indian citizenship only in 1986) who has very little understanding of India and its ancient heritage. Creation of fear of majority domination has been the favourite past time of India’s pseudo intellectuals for last two decades.

Part 2: How India's heritage of pluralism is being undone

Colonel Anil Athale is a military historian; studied internal violence in Kashmir, the north-east, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Northern Ireland as a Shivaji fellow of the United Services Institute (New Delhi) and medieval history as fellow of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.

Colonel (retd) Anil Athale