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Rediff.com  » News » Target: Ajit Singh's vote-bank. Result: Muzaffarnagar riots

Target: Ajit Singh's vote-bank. Result: Muzaffarnagar riots

September 13, 2013 11:51 IST

Target: Ajit Singh's vote-bank. Result: Muzaffarnagar riots

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As general elections approach Uttar Pradesh may see more communal incidents as political parties make an all-out play for votes, says Faisal Kidwai.

Two neighbours are living together in peace for decades and two rival political parties want their votes. So, what do they do? They gang up together and make these neighbours fight each other.

This is exactly what happened in Muzaffarnagar, Bhagpat and Shamli districts in western Uttar Pradesh when a local incident led to pitched battles between Hindus and Muslims, causing more than 50 deaths.

In late August, Shahnawaz, a Muslim boy living about 15 kilometres from Muzaffarnagar, was allegedly beaten to death by Jat teenagers Gaurav and Sachin for reportedly stalking their sister. The cousins in turn were lynched in retaliation.

This tit-for-tat would have remained confined if the administration had taken immediate measures, but not only it did not take any action, it actually allowed the situation to get out of hand.

Politicians, who can never be accused of not being opportunistic, started fuelling anger and whipping up emotions by delivering hate speeches and even posting a fake video of a lynching.

The Bahujan Samaj Party’s Kadir Rana, Bhartiya Janata Party’s MLA Hukum Singh, BJP legislators Sangat Singh Som, Suresh Rana and Kunwar Bharatendu, former Congress MP Harendra Malik, Bharatiya Kisan Union leaders Rakesh Tikait and Naresh Tikait all have been accused of making incendiary speeches and inciting violence.

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Image: Soldiers detain two men for questioning during a curfew in Muzaffarnagar. About 50 people have died in in the communal violence
Photographs: Stringer/Reuters

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Target: Ajit Singh's vote-bank. Result: Muzaffarnagar riots

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On August 30, Muslim leaders called a 20,000-strong meeting in Muzaffarnagar where several politicians, including Congress leader Saiduzzaman and the SP’s Rashid Siddiqui, have been accused of making provocative comments.

On September 7, a rally called by Jats was given the go-ahead even though the whole Muzaffarnagar district was under prohibitory orders. About 150,000 people, many of them allowed in from as far Delhi and Haryana, attended it.

Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and his government, which is already facing a backlash due to the increase in criminalisation, misgovernance and communal violence, watched the events unfold for nearly 14 days as hate-mongers went about their business.

The Samajwadi Party won the state with a huge margin in March 2012 but it is Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal that dominates western UP and both the SP and its rival BJP went to work together to cut the RLD to size.

The SP, which enjoys the sizeable support of Muslims, began looking at playing the role of protector and thus weaning away those Muslims who still supported the RLD, while the BJP began angling at Hindu identity instead of Jat identity to break the support Ajit Singh has built over the years.

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Image: Akhilesh Yadav in Lucknow. The chief minister has admitted that 27 communal clashes have taken place in the state since he took over.
Photographs: Pawan Kumar/Reuters

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Target: Ajit Singh's vote-bank. Result: Muzaffarnagar riots

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So, an incident that would not even have made the front page of national press became the headline news and cause of so much misery simply because political parties decided to exploit it to strengthen their vote banks.

But will they benefit?

The BJP, which has taken a beating in the past couple of elections in the state, will no doubt eat into the RLD’s votes and see its support increase in western UP. The party’s ideological parent, the RSS, is going out all to shore up its role in the region, including targeting villages.

Things do not look so clear cut for the SP. It is already coming under fire from both inside the party by leaders such as Azam Khan and outside by various organisations.

What also makes things more difficult for it is the rise in communal violence during its 18-month rule. Uttar Pradesh has witnessed 27 serious cases of religious clashes since the party came to power. This inability to control tensions along with its struggle to govern the state efficiently is putting off many supporters, including Muslims.

The country is headed for general elections early next year and it is feared that caste-based violence and religious clashes will only increase in many states, especially in UP as it is not only a heavily polarised society both in terms of caste and religion but can also make or break fortunes of any political party.

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Image: A man rides his motorbike on a deserted street during curfew in Muzaffarnagar. Political parties have exploited the situation to secure their vote.
Photographs: Stringer/Reuters

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Target: Ajit Singh's vote-bank. Result: Muzaffarnagar riots

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Narendra Modi, the expected prime ministerial candidate of the BJP, has tasked the all-important work of building up base and securing votes in the state to his right-hand man, Amit Shah, and it looks like Modi himself will contest from the state capital, Lucknow.

With the stakes so high, it is all but certain that political parties will play every possible card to secure, solidify and deliver their respective vote banks. Although it looks like Muslims are not about to abandon Akhilesh Yadav just yet, their allegiance can change. It is not just communal clashes that have left many Muslims dissatisfied with the government, but a host of other issues.

The chief minister had promised to look up into cases of innocents locked up on trumped-up terrorism charges, but has only paid lip service to the issue since coming into power. He has made no attempt to prosecute those behind past communal violence apart from the usual transferring of officials and setting up probe commissions.

There has been no effort to address the low representation of Muslims in government services, especially in law enforcement. Similarly, the state machinery has made no serious push to give back Muslim Waqf board land illegally appropriated by successive governments.

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Image: Narendra Modi in New Delhi. He has sent in his right-hand man to seal UP for him.
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

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Target: Ajit Singh's vote-bank. Result: Muzaffarnagar riots

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Akhilesh has also failed to properly implement employment-generation schemes in Muslim-majority areas -- although to be fair to him, he has failed to implement them even in Hindu-dominated areas. He saw a big swing in Muslim votes in the last assembly elections and that was because the community, like the rest of the electorate, thought he would be able to deliver on his promises, plus the only real alternative they had was electing Mayawati back to power.

Things have an unnatural ability to swing back in politics and Akhilesh for all his thumping victory could see a reversal in fortunes as early as next year if his already-dissatisfied supporters switch their alliance to the BSP or Congress. If Akhilesh wants to be more than just a one-term chief minister and if Mulayam is looking at playing a role at the national level, then they need to get their house in order. Ditching the skull cap would be a good start.


Image: Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav in Lucknow. Mulayam needs to put his party in order if he wants to play a role at the national level.
Photographs: Pawan Kumar/Reuters

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Photographs: Pawan Kumar/Reuters

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