It is now beyond a shadow of doubt that BJP MP Hukum Singh’s infamous list, made up of members of Hindu families that had allegedly fled his Lok Sabha constituency Kairana in western Uttar Pradesh and in neighbouring Kandhla in Shamli district, was a piece of fiction. Many of those who figured in the list were either still in residence or had left much earlier in search of better prospects. Moreover, there is evidence that many of those who moved out of Kairana and Kandhla did so not so much because of communalism but crime. Both towns are in the grip of powerful and violent criminal gangs, which have had a free run of the area. All the fact-finding teams, irrespective of their political affiliation, have been in agreement that the region was under the threat of such groups, particularly one run by Mukeem Kala, engaged in extortion. After his list was exposed as a gross and mischievous exaggeration, Mr. Singh himself backtracked, claiming that the migration was, in fact, essentially a law and order problem. But mischief had already been done, and with a hugely important Assembly election scheduled for next year, it is impossible to disregard the idea that it was wholly intended. The Kairana “exodus” lie exacerbated social tensions in the region, which is yet to recover from the Muzaffarnagar violence of 2013. As before, the party is talking in two voices. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has exhorted the BJP rank and file to focus on development, while others in the party are not below using the issue as a campaign plank.
It has been left to civil society and sections of the media to highlight the untruths and take some of the “sting” out of the BJP MP’s claims. The counter- narrative is not coming strongly enough from the political class. That said, even if Mr. Singh’s lists were meant to spread fear, the follow-up did put the spotlight on the thriving criminal activity in the region. Unchecked crime that affects business and working communities in U.P.’s mofussil towns has long been associated with Samajwadi Party rule. The Akhilesh Yadav government has done little to change this perception. During the Muzaffarnagar riots, the actions of the SP and its government suggested that they were more than willing to play the game of communal polarisation as a two-step with the BJP. The SP paid for it in the Lok Sabha elections. If the party has learnt its lessons, it is still to demonstrate this in sufficient measure. Till then, the larger anxiety remains. In a region with mixed populations, the consequences of painting a largely crime-related phenomenon with a broad communal brush could have lethal consequences.