When the curfew was relaxed in Muzaffarnagar town for a few hours on Tuesday evening, Khalapar sprung to life. Men cycled past, young boys began playing on the streets, dozens walked into the mosque, small groups formed almost immediately, engaged in animated discussions.
But the energy could not hide the scars. A cobbler, sitting in a corner, said he had not eaten for two days because the riots had left him with no income. Three big police trucks were parked right at the crossing. A newly-appointed SSP marched through Khalapar, considered among the most sensitive of spots in the town. IBN7 journalist Rajesh Verma was killed in the violence that erupted here on Saturday evening.
Sitting outside, Inam Elahi Sabri ‘Pahalwan’, a Muslim elder, was seething. Mr. Sabri said he was “close” to Mulayam Singh. “I have spent eight days at his home in Safai. I forced the entire qaum in this area to vote for SP. And look, this is what they gave us,” he said, surveying the street. “It is the biggest dhoka [betrayal].”
Mr. Sabri’s anger illuminates west U.P.’s startling political paradox. Large sections of non-Muslims — a Sikh hotelier in Saharanpur, a Jain trader in Meerut, a secular Hindu activist with a civil society organisation, activists of Rashtriya Lok Dal and even Congress, besides the BJP — argue that the SP had been “partial” towards Muslims. But Muslims themselves are furious with Mulayam and Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav. “We have seen through the game. Enough is enough,” Mr. Sabri’s son, Dilshad, said.
Shahid Hassan was the polling agent for the SP MLA from the area, Chitranjan Swaroop. He told The Hindu: “Muslims did everything to get this sarkar elected. But the community cannot tolerate the party now.” When asked about SP’s failures, which has riled them so much, Mr. Hassan points out: “The clash between the boys on August 27 was a minor incident, but it was allowed to escalate.”
Questions then fly, giving a glimpse into the Muslim narrative of the incidents of the past week. Why did the government not arrest the culprits right then and finish off the matter? Why was the district administration “lenient with Jats” when they organised a panchayat on August 31? Most crucially, why did they allow the ‘mahapanchayat’ to take place on September 7 even though such gatherings were prohibited? Why did they allow Hindus to go armed with illegal weapons? Why were provocative speeches allowed? Why did Lucknow not listen to the Intelligence Bureau and the district administration’s inputs, warning that allowing a mass meeting could lead to trouble? Why were panchayat participants asked to go through a route that had minority settlements? Why were Muslim boys picked up and arrested even though violence was from the other side?
Noor Elahi, a local religious figure, says: “Mulayam Singh hits us with one hand, then soothes with another. His politics is based on creating insecurity. SP thinks that only when Muslims are afraid, they will come to the party.” Shahzad Siddiqui, an entrepreneur who has close ties with the SP and is even a contractor for the Safai Mahotsav organised in the SP supremo’s home district, chips in: “This is his illusion. We will shatter it this time.”
Breach in contract
Muslim support for the SP, like with Lalu Prasad in Bihar in the past, is based on a key premise: security in return for votes. This contract now stands breached. The administration has not revealed the religious identities of those killed. But while more Hindus are understood to have been at the receiving end on Saturday, Muslims have borne the brunt of the violence since then.
Displacement has been massive, with Muslims fleeing Jat-dominated villages in thousands and congregating in police stations, Muslim-dominated villages, at relatives’ homes, in madrasas and mosques, and at private farms of well-wishers.
Shandar Gufran, a local activist who works on minority issues, says the “geography of west U.P.” will change. “The refugees cannot and are not going back because they are scared. From mixed villages, we may end up seeing separate villages on either side of the road in certain parts of the district.”
This is corroborated by Wajid Chowdhury, the State general secretary of RLD who has given refuge to some Muslims in his village. He told The Hindu: “I would put the number of displaced at 10,000-15,000. No one wants to return. Unless they are given assurances by the Jats of the village — who beat them, who killed their relatives, who confiscated their property — that nothing will happen now, how can they go back?”
Many observers suggest that the SP thought that it could allow tensions to escalate up to a point, and then control the situation telling Muslims that it was with them. But it has backfired. The elderly Mr. Sabri says: “BJP is better than this. You know where they stand. SP’s dual faced politics is worse. Mulayam wants to create a Gujarat here.”
Mr. Gufran, the activist, says that Mulayam Singh is in the 90s mode, even though Muslims have moved on. “SP thinks it can scare us into voting for them. But there are two changes. Muslims today in many pockets are financially in a much-better position than they were 20 years ago. This gives them confidence. And two, Muslims care about development, law and order, electricity, jobs, education. SP has failed on all these fronts. We don’t want Modi, but we have other options.” About a dozen Muslims in the district who spoke to The Hindu indicated they would vote for Congress in 2014, and for Mayawati in the Assembly polls if it were held now.
But whether the fury of Muslims in riot-hit areas would extend across the state is to be seen.
In Darul Uloom Deoband, teachers are critical of the SP, but felt the government was doing its best. Tari Abdul Rauf said: “They did not allow the situation to worsen here even though there were conspiracies. And they are trying hard but Hindus have been incited.” But, Muzaffarnagar’s Muslims say they will spread the message of the SP’s complicity to others in their community. Indeed, the pressure from the ground is having an impact, with Muslim organisations condemning the government and seeking the Chief Minister’s resignation or dismissal.