Uttar Pradesh has always been vulnerable to communal and caste tensions because of the sizeable presence in the State of three critical demographic segments — Muslims, Dalits and caste Hindus. It takes but a small incident to start a skirmish, which, depending on the extent of political support, either sputters to a swift end or turns into a full-blown conflagration. Prima facie, the mob frenzy in Muzaffarnagar, which has already claimed over two dozen lives and left hundreds homeless, appears to be a textbook case of engineered violence. The pattern is familiar. Ground reports suggest that the current disturbance has its roots in an August 27 Jat-Muslim clash in Kawal village over a spate of killings involving both communities. This spark developed into a fire, thanks to police inaction, political manipulation and a poisonous video calculatedly pressed into circulation by suspected Hindutva elements. Predictably enough, large-scale violence erupted. And equally predictably, the video turned out to be fake: what was circulated as the actual clip of the August 27 killings was most probably footage shot in Pakistan.
But this is exactly how vested interests, and sometimes even mainstream parties, operate. A hate-filled VCD had formed part of the BJP’s official campaign material ahead of the 2007 Assembly election. The disc, which portrayed Muslims as nation-breakers, and implored Hindus to vote the BJP or find themselves sporting beards and wearing burqas, was withdrawn following an FIR registered by the Election Commission. That election was saved by the ECI’s hawk-like watch over communal and caste miscreants, leading to the formation of the first majority government in 16 years by the Bahujan Samaj Party. It is not without significance that peace prevailed until the next election five years later. For all of Mayawati’s faults she ran an efficient administration that acted at the first sign of communal trouble. In the February 2012 Assembly election, fresh hope came in the form of Akhilesh Yadav who seemed sincere enough with his promise to practise principled politics. The promise stands betrayed as can be seen from the Samajwadi Party government’s admission to at least 27 communal incidents since March 2012. The SP is the mirror opposite of the BJP and its larger parivar. For every cynical action of one, there tends to be an equal and opposite reaction from the other, with the competition getting fiercer closer to an election, as is obviously the case now. As 2014 nears, rival political efforts to fuel and play on the insecurity and fears of Muslims and Hindus are likely to be intensified. The good sense of Uttar Pradesh’s people will be severely tested in the months ahead.