The local MP, it is said, planned to cash in on the Durga Nagpal controversy

When young IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal, in her capacity as SDM of Gautambudhnagar, recently ordered the pulling down of the wall of a proposed mosque, she provided an ambitious local Samajwadi Party MLA and chairperson of the U.P. State Agro Industrial Corporation Limited, Narendra Bhatty, with the opportunity to strike back: Mr. Bhatty hoped, locals say, that the ensuing fallout would help him win the Lok Sabha seat — of which Rabupura is a part — in the general elections less than a year away.

The Uttar Pradesh government’s swift instructions to suspend Ms. Nagpal had less, therefore, to do with its perception that the incident would affect communal harmony than the understanding that by punishing the young SDM the issue would get highlighted in such a way that the ruling SP would be portrayed as the protectors of the minority community. It would simultaneously remove from the scene a zealous young officer who, by all accounts, had taken on the sand mafia that operates across a large swathe of western U.P.

In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, Mr. Bhatti had stood third polling 16.05 per cent of the votes, behind the Bahujan Samaj Party’s Surendra Singh Nagar (33.24 per cent), and the BJP’s Mahesh Kumar Sharma (31.08 per cent). And the Congress’s Ramesh Chandra Tomar had polled 15.73 per cent. If Mr. Bhatty can polarise the votes in the constituency on communal lines, he could eat into the Muslim votes that both the BSP and the Congress received the last time.

Indeed, the SP appears to be leaving no stone unturned in communalising the issue: senior State Minister Mohammad Azam Khan — a veteran of the now defunct Babri Masjid Action Committee — went so far as to dismiss the sand mafia by saying that everyone had a right to natural resources. “Ram naam ki loot hai loot sako to loot [You are allowed to loot in the name of lord Ram],” he said in Rampur on Wednesday, when asked to comment on the issue.

Senior Minister Shivpal Yadav, denying the role of the mining mafia behind Ms. Nagpal’s suspension, insisted, “She was suspended for demolishing the wall of a mosque at Kadalpur village in the Rabupura area without following the legal process.” His version is that the owner of the land had not objected to the construction of a wall on his land. But when some persons lodged a false complaint with Ms. Nagpal, she had it demolished, and this led to communal tension.

The version of the locals is that the gram panchayat agreed to the construction of a mosque on government land a few months ago. Mr. Bhatty had come to the inauguration and even made a monetary contribution. But permission was not sought from the district magistrate for the construction of the mosque, something that is mandatory before clearing building plans for any place of worship ever since the Supreme Court passed such a ruling. Ms. Nagpal was, therefore, well within her rights to pull down the wall, they say, adding that perhaps she could have given notice, as this is the month of Ramzaan.

Now comes the district magistrate’s report to the government on the incident: it says Ms. Nagpal was asked to visit Kadalpur from where reports of illegal construction activities on government land had come in and to settle the matter amicably. The report also suggests it was unclear what religious site it was, since the construction had only just begun. When Ms. Nagpal and other officers deputed to visit the village arrived there, the villagers were told that they should either seek permission for construction of a religious structure, as per the governing rules, or dismantle the illegally constructed wall. The residents of the village then chose, the DM’s report says, to dismantle the illegal construction of their own volition. No heavy machinery was ever pressed into service to demolish any wall, as the government has suggested. The report, with inputs from the district police as well as other administrative officers, also says there was no communal tension or the possibility of any clashes between religious communities.

But clearly, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav appeared on Thursday to be in no mood to accept this report, even though he is currently up against not just one or two officers, but the entire bureaucracy: after all, it is seldom that the IAS Association of a State speaks up for one amongst them, as the U.P. body has done for Ms. Nagpal. If Mr. Yadav is to survive this incident unscathed, he must demonstrate political acumen and reinstate Ms. Nagpal. This is a case of blatant violation of the law, not denial of minority rights.