'It is impossible for a decent man to live in Kairana town.'
'Any man who is not able to pay extortion money has left Kairana.'
'The people involved in this extortion want it to become a Hindu-Muslim problem.'
'The intention in Kashmir was that if Pandits leave Kashmir, all the property left behind will go to Muslims. The intention is the same in Kairana,'
Kairana's Member of Parliament Hukum Singh last week produced a list with details of '346 Hindu families' who had allegedly fled their homes in the town in western Uttar Pradesh's Shamli district due to 'threats and extortion by criminal elements belonging to a particular community.'
Even as Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah expressed serious concern over the 'migration' at the BJP's national executive in Allahabad, the Congress and the ruling Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh were quick to accuse the BJP of attempting to 'communalise' the situation ahead of the 2017 assembly polls.
Hukum Singh, 78, began his political career as a Congress politician, then joined the Lok Dal, returned to the Congress, serving in the Veer Bahadur Singh and Narain Dutt Tewari ministries of the mid 1980s. After he joined the BJP in the early 1990s, he was elected on the party's ticket and appointed a minister in the Kalyan Singh government.
Elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time in 2014, some months after the Muzaffarnagar riots where his name featured, his nephew Anil Kumar could not retain Hukum Singh's Kairana assembly seat for the BJP in the October 2014 by-election, losing to Samajwadi Party candidate Nahid Hasan by 1,099 votes.
Shortly after the UP government ordered a probe into the alleged migration on June 14, Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com spoke to Hukum Singh, who incidentally joined the Indian Army after the 1962 India-China War, inspired by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's emotional speech. Singh fought the 1965 War and resigned his commission after that war.
What is the situation now in Kairana? How serious is it for Hindus, according to you?
It is impossible for a decent man to live in Kairana town. Any man who is not able to pay extortion money has left Kairana.
There were businessmen who were earning Rs 2 lakh (200,000) daily, but they too have left.
There were people who constructed homes worth crores of rupees and some who were settled here since a century, but they too left.
The state government did not do anything to stop this exodus, they did not give any protection.
This matter was raised in the UP assembly, but somehow the ruling party was not convinced enough to take action against the gangsters.
Right now, there are 100 people who are sitting in front of me. They are frightened to live in Shamli. They are from the labour class and Valmiki (caste).
They say they cannot live here until the Indian Army comes to save them as they have lost faith in the Uttar Pradesh police.
Are only Hindu businessmen being targeted for extortion?
This is a very relevant question. Muslim businessmen were never based in Kairana.
There are small-brick factories owned by Muslim businessmen, but they were never targeted.
They don't own much business here. I must not say these things, but I have to say the fact that in Kairana, there are Ansaris (the weaver community) and Qureshis (the butcher community) -- against whom we have no complaints -- and Gujjars (the agricultural community) who are the ones terrorising the people.
They (Gujjars) have spread terror up to Haryana. There was a gangster, Muqim, who spread terror in three states.
The police did not want him to die in an encounter. Therefore, he was arrested and sent to jail. He is safely operating his extortion business from there.
Why are you targeting only the Muslim Gujjars (Hukum Singh is from the Hindu Gujjar caste)?
I don't believe in biradaris (communities), but they are involved. So what can I do?
So how many Hindus are left in Kairana now?
We have given list of 346 people (to the government), the administration is cross-checking this. There are 20 people on that list who they are saying left on their own. They (the government) are saying they will further investigate the case.
Are you sure, because there is a contradiction between your statement and Kairana Superintendent of Police Vijay Bhushan's remarks that the migration of Hindus has been happening for the last 20 years?
Hindus left Kairana earlier, too, but now they are leaving because of extortion. This is a new trend.
Gangsters call and threaten businessmen demanding extortion money. They are called 'bhais' here -- they learnt the word from the Mumbai lingo.
In one incident, they threatened a businessman and demanded Rs 10 lakh (Rs 1 million). The businessman came with Rs 1 lakh (Rs 100,000) to negotiate. The 'bhais' abused him and said, 'Do you think we will sell for so cheap?'
The next day they killed the businessman and his uncle who was standing next to him. They shot them and said, 'Hamari aukaat 1 lakh rupaiye ki hai? (are we worth only Rs 1 lakh?).'
After that they openly displayed firearms in the market, sending a clear message to businessmen that if they do not pay extortion money they will be dead.
But this can be a class issue, not a Hindu-Muslim problem.
It is not a Hindu-Muslim problem, it is a law and order problem.
The people who are involved in this extortion want it to become a Hindu-Muslim problem so that they may get the support of Muslims.
Critics say the BJP wants to secure Hindu votes and is therefore doing politics on this issue...
I am saying again, this is not a Hindu-Muslim problem. It is a law and order problem.
What about the allegation that the BJP is trying to capture the Hindu vote bank by raising such issues?
Everyone votes for me, what is there to capture?
Many Muslims vote for me, I am not new in politics.
There are a number of Muslims who have voted for me earlier and they will vote for me in the future too.
Why have you been comparing the situation in Kairana to the Kashmiri Pandit exodus?
During my visit to Kashmir with the parliamentary standing committees on home affairs, I saw that the Kashmiri Pandit homes in Srinagar were empty. I felt sad to see that they were living like refugees in their own country.
The same way, Hindu businessmen who have left Kairana because of extortion threats are not doing well economically.
Why then should I not say that Kairana is becoming like Kashmir?
The intention in Kashmir was that if Pandits leave Kashmir, all the property they have left behind will automatically go to the Muslims. The intention is the same in Kairana.
That indirectly means that Kairana has a Hindu-Muslim problem.
Indirectly, the problem is there, what can I do?
Criminals want to spread this fire, and make it a Hindu-Muslim problem.
Every man will look at this issue from his own angle. This is human nature.
Some people are saying that the issue is being raised because the 2017 assembly elections are coming.
But the impression is that in Kairana, Hindus are being driven out by their Muslim neighbours.
It is just a coincidence that all the persons who have left Kairana because of extortion are Hindus and not Muslims.
The victims are Hindus and not Muslims.
It is also a coincidence that the people who are involved in extortion are all Muslims.
Who is this 'bhai' who is involved in extortion?
His name is Muqim, a Muslim Gujjar, he was a terror in all districts. In Saharanpur he looted a petrol pump and killed a constable. The police could not do anything.
He did criminal acts in Haryana too and the same superintendent of police whose name you took earlier sent him to jail under political pressure. I do not want to take the officer's name.
And from jail, Muqim is running his extortion business. There are serious charges against Muqim, but there is no one who will come forward to be a witness against him.
It is said that Kairana has a very dangerous history. Even the British army feared entering Kairana in 1857...
In Kairana, in 1857, Hindus and Muslims came together to oppose the British army! Kairana has a good history, but unfortunately it has now become a crime capital.
How did that happen?
It was happening gradually, but now it has taken shape on a very big scale. Extortion has become a big business in Kairana.