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Western Uttar Pradesh: The Hindu, Muslim divide is a reality

Last updated on: April 08, 2014 16:53 IST

The polarisation politics seems to have succeeded in western UP much to the delight of the BJP. However the non-BJP parties are hoping that the polarisation will not be as intense and they will be able to hold on to majority of their vote banks, says Girish Nikam.

As one travels through western Uttar Pradesh, which goes to polls on April 10, one cannot help but get a feeling of déjà vu. From Noida to the epicentre of the communal riots, Muzzafarnagar and Shamli, it is as if we have gone back in a time machine to late 1980s and early and mid-1990s. The atmosphere is thick with religious feelings dominating the discussion on elections. “Its Hindu vs Muslim,” declare any number of people one interacts with right from Ghaziabad to Saharanpur.

Of course the crowd of people, all political analysts and observers in their own right, who gather around us at Kutiya in Meerut (which is the equivalent of a Coffee house in Allahabad or Bhopal), are not as crude in their observations. A mix of Dalit intellectuals, long-time Congress workers, lawyers, political activists of various parties and laymen, give their own spin to the situation.

But ultimately after some sophisticated arguments and showing disgust at the way these elections is turning out to be, they all virtually agree that indeed the polarisation on religious lines is a reality.

However as Dr Satya Prakash, an academic in Meerut College, and whose inclinations are towards the Bahujan Samaj Party, agrees that there are conscious attempts being made by the Bharatiya Janata Party to break the Dalit vote bank of Mayawati. But he feels they may not be able to do much, though he is willing to concede that a minority among Dalits may opt for the BJP.

Ved Pal Tomar, a staunch and veteran Congressman agrees with Dr Prakash, while expressing concern at the communalisation of politics. His target is also the Samajwadi Party, for trying to polarise the Muslims and accumulating their sympathy.

The story of western Uttar Pradesh is woven around these lines. If there is one Hindu caste which is at the forefront of making the Amit Shah-Narendra Modi-Sangh Parivar strategy to polarise the Hindus a reality, it is the Jats. It is in Muzaffarnagar district and adjoining Shamli, the epicentre of the September 2013 communal riots, that the Jats who clashed with Muslims, resulting in over 60 deaths and thousands of Muslims having to abandon their homes and hearth to relief camps, are most vocal.

The BJP strategy was to bring a divide among the Jats and Muslims, which had been the vote bank of Chaudhary Charan Singh and later his son, Ajit Siingh. The riots has succeeded in creating the divide and how. The Jat khap panchayats have been openly swearing by the BJP and it was in one of those khap panchayat meetings near Shamli, the other day that Amit Shah,made those controversial and explosive remarks. Incidentally it has been much appreciated by the Jats!

Professor Sudhir Panwar, a native of Bhainswal, says with regret, “this region which had seen much bonhomie among Jats and Muslims for so long has become so communal, caste doesn’t matter. Now it has become Hindus versus Muslim.”

However there is a small problem which the Jats face. Their original loyalty is to Chaudhary Charan Singh and his son Ajit Singh. Ajit Singh is credited with getting the Jats the status of OBC, a decision taken by the UPA government just a few weeks before the announcement of elections. This has become a dilemma, especially for the older Jats as they are pulled towards the BJP, but can’t ignore the fact that the reservation to their community means much. The younger Jats, by and large have no such dilemmas. The Modi lure is too intense for them to resist.

If this is the problem of the Jats, the Dalits, who have always sworn their loyalty to Mayawati and her BSP, are also in a fix. While the lure of being seen as part of the larger Hindu monolith, which the BJP is campaigning for, is attractive. But their loyalty and the fact that Mayawati and her mentor Kanshi Ram gave them a voice, cannot be forgotten. However, those Dalits who live in villages with Muslims, their choice has become simpler. The fact that during the riots, they felt targetted by the Muslims, has given them reason to shift towards the BJP, as many believe.

The elections in western Uttar Pradesh have become BJP vs others battle, with the BJP aggressively pushing the Hindu agenda. “Even children have started chanting Modi, Modi in our village,” says Ram Bandhu, in Hastinapur, a part of the Khairana Lok Sabha constituency. The anonymous pamphlets being distributed to provoke the Hindus against the Muslims only adds to the vicious atmosphere.

Modi, who was unknown in most rural parts of this region even six months back, has become a house-hold name, both among the Hindus and Muslims. While for Hindus he is seen as a ray of hope and also as someone who can keep the Muslims under control, for Muslims he is the man to be defeated. The Muslims are therefore strategising in each of the ten constituencies, who is the most likely candidate to defeat the BJP, regardless of which party they belong to.

This has set off panic in all the non-BJP parties, be it the ruling Samajawadi Party, BSP, Congress or Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal. All these parties are desperately trying to hold on to their vote banks and not allow it to slip into the BJP fold.

Samajawadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, who is worried about his Muslim vote bank, openly warns his Muslim supporters at a meeting in Khairana, that they should beware of Modi and his communal politics, even as he himself plays communal politics to the core. Mayawati is worried about her Dalit vote base slipping. And rightly so, as Amit Shah’s statement and actions clearly indicate that after having successfully divided the Jats and Muslims, his and his party’s efforts is to wean away the Dalits who form 23 percent of the state’s population towards the BJP.

His statement that if Modi becomes prime minister, “Mullah Mulayam’s government will be thrown out” is aimed at the Dalits, who are feeling under siege in the Samajawadi Party’s rule.

The polarisation politics seems to have succeeded much to the delight of the BJP, whose candidates openly admit it in off-the-record conversations. However the non-BJP parties are hoping that the polarisation will not be as intense and they will be able to hold on to majority of their vote banks. Will they be able to, is the big question, and that’s what will decide the elections in this sugarcane rich region, which has sadly become a communal cauldron.

Image: Soldiers stand guard on a deserted street during a curfew in Muzaffarnagar. Photograph: Reuters

Girish Nikam