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Deadly communal potion is brewing in UP

August 23, 2013 09:09 IST

Deadly communal potion is brewing in UP

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Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow

Sharat Pradhan assesses the ongoing political match-fixing in Uttar Pradesh to bring Ayodhya back on the centre stage -- for votes

“When you see too much of religion in the shop window, rest assured there is very little within…” What Karl Marx said decades ago holds true in Uttar Pradesh even today, when India is heading for a crucial electoral battle that will determine the political destiny of the country in 2014.

Sixty-six years after the country witnessed a bloody partition on religious lines, together with freedom from foreign rule, religion continues to play a dominant role in shaping its political ethos.

No wonder therefore, religion has been systematically brought to the fore in a politically significant populous Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 members (the highest) to the Lok Sabha.

Leaders of different political parties, who have otherwise very little to do with religion, spirituality or morality, have suddenly turned their focus on hardcore religious issues -- in the hope of earning a rich harvest of votes.

Since the Ayodhya temple issue had outlived its direct potential to garner votes , political outfits were now resorting to new ways and means to bring it back to the centre stage  of politics -- even if that amounted to ‘match-fixing’.

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Photographs: Amit Gupta/Reuters

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Interestingly, it began with a 2-hour-long closed-door meeting between Vishwa Hindu Parishad chief Ashok Singhal and Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav and his son Akhilesh Yadav at the UP chief minister’s residence on August 17.

Singhal had fixed a prior appointment with Mulayam, who took him from his Vikramaditya Marg residence to the nearby official residence of the chief minister at 5 Kalidass Marg, where the father-son duo remained closeted with him for more than an hour.

And Akhilesh did not mind keeping the media waiting for a pre-scheduled press conference that got delayed by nearly an hour-and-a-half. The press meet was convened essentially to unveil the government’s much hyped “development agenda”.

While the government maintained discreet silence on whatever transpired between the two sides, Singhal held a press conference to declare that Mulayam had conceded his request to mediate on the Ayodhya issue “since Muslims had tremendous faith in him.”

Singhal also claimed that the UP chief minister had agreed to grant VHP the permission to take out a “84-kosi parikrama” in and around Ayodhya.

In less than an hour, Babri Masjid Action Committee convenor and All India Muslim Personal Law Board Executive member Zafaryab Jilani, who is now also the state’s additional advocate general, dashed to Mulayam’s residence, urging him to review his decision.

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Image: Vishwa Hindu Parishad chief Ashok Singhal
Photographs: Jitendra Prakash/Reuters

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Jilani succeeded in impressing upon the SP patriarch that since the vexed Ayodhya issue was pending before the highest court of the land, it would be inappropriate for him to undertake any kind of mediation at this juncture.

He also sought to make it loud and clear that Muslims would shun any such move as the VHP leadership was simply looking for “total surrender” by Muslims.

Sure enough, Mulayam went into the reverse gear and flatly denied having given any kind of assurance to the VHP strongman -- either on the “84-kosi parikrama” or on mediation.

What followed within the next 24 hours was a formal announcement jointly by UP’s principal home secretary and director general of police that the state government had refused permission for the VHP “parikrama”.

Clearly, there could be no denying that the denial of permission was on most valid grounds. What the VHP was seeking to undertake was giving birth to a completely new ritual. All traditional ‘parikramas’ were conducted in and around Ayodhya without a whimper.

The fact that they intended to carry out the march through nearly a dozen districts reflected VHP’s obvious motive to whip up religious passions. The traditional “84- kosi parikrama” (one ‘kos’ is 3 miles) is held between the months of April and May.

And this year’s ‘parikrama’ was carried out as per schedule and along the conventional route that covered some six districts. A large number of local Hindu devotees participated in the silent march, widely known to be completely devoid of any kind of political undertones or overtones.

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Image: Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav
Photographs: Pawan Kumar/Reuters

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The manner in which the new demand for this parallel ‘parikrama’ was raised and the high pitch at which the permission was denied has led many to believe that that the entire affair was not only politically-motivated, but was also part of a vicious design crafted through connivance of both VHP and the ruling SP -- now being termed as ‘match-fixing’.

Evidently, the move was aimed at providing political mileage to both Bhartiya Janata Party and the SP, thereby isolating the two other key political outfits -- Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party.

The dependence of both Congress and SP on the Muslim vote, at the coming general election, is an open secret. Just as the badly-discredited Congress was struggling to revive its fortunes by wooing Muslims so was the SP desperate to achieve its goals by cornering the entire Muslim vote.

SP chief Mulayam sees the 2014 election as the last chance to fulfil his long cherished dream of becoming prime minister. And he was also fully aware that this would not happen without the SP weaning away the entire 20 per cent Muslim vote. 

Any division of the Muslim vote could shatter Mulayam’s hopes.

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Image: A Samajwadi Party worker gestures in front of a banner with the party's electoral symbol, the bicycle
Photographs: Jitendra Prakash/Reuters

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A communal divide was bound to polarise Hindus in favour of BJP, while Muslims could get divided largely between SP and Congress. 

In order to prevent that division of the Muslim vote, it was extremely crucial for Mulayam to impress upon Muslims that SP -- and SP alone -- was the only potent political force that could keep the saffron brigade at bay.

It was therefore no surprise that VHP raised the demand for a ‘parikrama’ that it has no intention of undertaking. The self-styled representative of a billion Hindus also knew very well that its demand would be rejected by the SP government. 

Evidently, it was a well thought out plot aimed at forging a divide to serve the devious designs of these political outfits.  

The stage is all set. The VHP will raise its pitch on the demand for the ‘parikrama’ and the Akhilesh government will thwart it with all its might -- displayed through heavy deployment of the ‘khakhi’ clad force.

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Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

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Short of repeating Mulayam’s much echoed proclamation about Ayodhya in 1990 -- “yahan parinda bhi par nahin maar sakta” (even a bird cannot flutter its wings in Ayodhya) -- the official assertions by the SP leadership and top officials were no less loud or aggressive.

The VHP too has already begun to show its teeth and make its menacing growl heard far and wide.

Who cares if the tension built on this account leads to rioting? After all, UP has witnessed nearly two dozen major and minor incidents of communal violence since the SP government assumed power in March 2012.

Sure enough, no riot takes a toll of the high or the mighty. 

It is the poor, innocent man on the street who faces the brunt of any communal discord. And it is that poor soul who ultimately becomes a tool in the hands of a political class with insatiable lust for votes -- even if it were through an overdose of religion in the shop window.

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Photographs: Amit Gupta/Reuters

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