They rubbish any comparison of Muzaffarnagar communal clashes with Gujarat riots of 2002

The build-up to last October’s communal violence during Durga Puja in Faizabad was marked by aggressive sloganeering by saffron groups. Among the many slogans, one stood out for its ominous nature: “ UP ab Gujarat banega, Faizabad shuruvat karega (U.P. will turn into Gujarat and Faizabad will initiate it).”

In the wake of the Muzaffarnagar communal clashes, observers and opposition parties have been quick to compare the situation in U.P. to Gujarat. They substantiate their view with the fact that over 25 major incidents of communal violence have taken place in the State since Akhilesh Yadav took over. However, across Eastern U.P. (Purvanchal) and Central (Awadh), Muzaffarnagar is only a matter of discussion and is viewed as an isolated incident with no impact on Hindu-Muslim harmony.

In fact, Muslims rubbish any comparisons with the Gujarat riots of 2002. While they feel that the riots have brought an element of “insecurity” due to “one-sided damage”, they view the Muzaffarnagar clashes as isolated events perpetrated by right-wing groups.

They perceive no threat from the majority community or the State. They are disappointed and angry with the State administration for failing to protect them. Large banners of jailed MLA Mukhtar Ansari can be seen as you walk towards the bustling Rauza Mohalla in Mau, a handloom town. The locality witnessed large-scale arson and communal violence in 2005. Incidentally, the Samajwadi Party was in power then as well.

Mohammad Haroon, who supplies silk for Banarasi Saris, is flanked by a group of Muslims who are sipping tea outside a mosque just before their afternoon prayers.

“Muzaffarnagar stands out and will stay imprinted in the Muslim heart for a long time. This time the loss of life has been heavy,” says Haroon. But he quickly adds, “ Lekin yahan toh uska asar nahi dikh raha hai ( But it has not impacted us).

Across districts, if you engage any member of the minority community, irrespective of class, to a conversation, the Muzaffarnagar violence ranks high on discussion. But their reaction is limited to “pity” for the victims and “anger” towards the administration. Tahir Madni, general secretary of the Rashtriya Ulema Council, agrees that while the riots have left the Muslims “disappointed” there is no fear among them. He blamed the SP for its laxity. “SP says it’s a conspiracy of the BJP, but the government is yours. You (SP) have exposed your weakness. They know security ranks high for Muslims when they vote,” says Madni.

In Faizabad, Pratapgarh and Allahabad, places that have witnessed communal clashes over the past year, residents stress on maintaining the “ Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb ” or Hindu-Muslim unity. And there are no indications that the recent violence has done anything to disrupt that.

Doodnath Singh, a U.P.-based author known for his novel on the Babri Masjid demolition, says the riots are an attempt by right-wing groups to “de-stabilise” the government and communal harmony. However, he adds, “even among the intellectual circles there is no comparison drawn with the Gujarat massacre. The Muslims are merely unhappy with the State for failing to act on time.

“The Phoolpur area of Azamgarh district, notorious for its connection with alleged terrorists, was tense for days after it witnessed communal clashes in 2009. Station House Officer Shailendra Tripathi believes that “everything is normal. Both Muslims and Hindus are living their lives normally. Just this morning I received a peace delegation from both sides to ensure successful preparations for Durga Puja and Bakri Eid”, he said and added that the locals have realised that vested interests are always at play for communalising minor incidents.

“Such is the culture here that if one person, say Muslim, needs help, ten Muslims will stand up for him. But when they gather for the cause, it is reported as Muslims are gathering to slaughter Hindus”, explains Mr Tripathi. In Mizwa, the village of late Urdu poet and father of actress Shabana Azami, Kaifi Azmi, Muslims are “angry” with the State but they put the blame solely on the right-wing groups.

“Small incidents keep taking place in the State. It's the politicians and the right-wing groups that have communalised them. We know it's a conspiracy. But the State needs to buckle up”, says Shah Alam, the caretaker village pradhan. Notably, the Muslims expressed their awareness that these incidents were being used for political mileage. Their only fear, however, was that their areas could be “targeted” next. While Murar Ahmad, a science student, also says that the riots are a ploy by right-wing groups to “defame” the SP, he however, does not spare the “communal minded” police and administration for “playing party”.

Kamal Ansari (30), a trader from Deoria, who often migrates to Delhi and Varanasi, says these incidents are “political tricks” but people have now understood that. “The politicians get their respective mileage. But what happens to us? Our market is spoilt, shops are shut and livelihood is affected. “Any form of real tension, if it exists in the region it’s on caste lines, he adds. It is a matter of discussion and viewed only as an isolated incident with no impact on Hindu-Muslim harmony.