The recent communal conflagration in Muzaffarnagar and its fallout are not just a throwback to the politics of Uttar Pradesh in the early 1990s — it is likely to impact the electoral fortunes of all political parties in the State.
As things stand, the biggest gainer could be the Bharatiya Janata Party, thanks to a certain degree of Hindu consolidation in the wake of the violence, followed by the Bahujan Samaj Party, whose record in government on law and order was excellent. Indeed, the BSP is waiting in the wings quietly: its strong point, apart from its committed Dalit base, is leader Mayawati’s undoubted demonstrated grip over the administration.
But the Samajwadi Party, which has always championed the cause of the minorities, has ended up annoying them by not being able to protect them.
As for the Rashtriya Lok Dal, it might well be the biggest loser, with its Jat vote base moving to the BJP, and the end of the Jat-Muslim social alliance — at least for the time being. The Congress, on its part, is standing on the margins, with its guarded criticism of the SP, even though the Centre has made its displeasure known to the Akhilesh Yadav government.
The current episode has its origins in the visit, last month, of a Vishwa Hindu Parishad delegation, to Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s official residence in Lucknow, when Ashok Singhal met SP leader Mulayam Singh Yadav to seek the government’s support for the 84-kosi parikrama of Ayodhya. This angered SP leader Mohammad Azam Khan, who denounced the meeting.
Subsequently, the SP government deployed enough forces in Ayodhya and its vicinity to deter people from gathering at any one place. The VHP, too, did not put up much resistance: there was no showdown. Pravin Togadia and Ramvilas Vedanti were placed under house arrest and Mr. Singhal was sent back to Delhi from Lucknow airport.
It had all the appearance of a fixed fight, a peaceful way of polarising votes ahead of the general election, with both the BJP and the SP seemingly gaining from the mock battle. On many occasions in the past, Mr. Yadav gained from the appellation “Maulana Mulayam” and being dubbed pro-minority.
But the communal conflagration in Muzaffarnagar district was no mock battle.
The Akhilesh government’s inability to prevent a clash between two sets of persons developing into a full-scale communal conflagration, resulting in over 40 deaths, over a hundred injured and thousands displaced has, by all accounts, enhanced political support for the BJP.
But given that the majority of the dead and the displaced are Muslim means there has been no corresponding support for the SP. Instead, there is anger brewing in the community against the State government which failed to protect its members.
This was reflected at the SP national executive meeting in Agra on Thursday, when Mr. Azam Khan failed to turn up, unhappy with his own government’s handling of the riots. And Mr. Yadav found himself in the uncomfortable position of answering questions on the parallel between what happened in Muzaffarnagar and the post-Godhra riots in Gujarat in 2002.