Those who don’t learn from history may be fated to repeat it, but what about those who don’t get their history down in the first place? India’s record in officially taking stock of >communal riots has been especially poor in recent decades, and the report of the Justice Vishnu Sahai commission inquiring into the >2013 Muzaffarnagar violence plays to form. The report, tabled in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly this month, zeroes in on the “negligence” of the local administration, the “failure” of the intelligence agencies and exaggeration on social and print media for the violence that coursed through many districts of U.P., leaving more than 60 dead and 60,000 homeless, an overwhelming number of them Muslims. Commissions of inquiry are often guided, by framing the terms of reference in a particular way, to conclusions that are politically manageable for governments. Whether by omission or by the terms set for it, the >Sahai commission appears to have exonerated the entire political class. It has also stopped short of extending the line of responsibility for local administrative failures to the Secretariat in Lucknow. Certainly, responsibility must be fixed on the intelligence and administrative machinery for failing to pick up and act upon signs of trouble leading up to a combustive mahapanchayat of September 7, 2013. But once the mahapanchayat gave a rousing war cry, as violence was visited upon unsuspecting rural dwellings in Muzaffarnagar and neighbouring districts, and as the survivors fled in search of safety, the Akhilesh Yadav government distinguished itself by responding exceedingly slowly, a lack of haste that was widely seen to be deliberate.
While giving a clean chit to Mr. Yadav’s Samajwadi Party government, the Sahai report mostly glosses over the role of the Sangh Parivar in the violence. There appears to be an effort on the part of the SP to deny the Bharatiya Janata Party any opportunity to bring Muzaffarnagar back into the political discourse — indeed, to deny the BJP a chance to sharpen communal politics. Just recently, the BJP’s candidate won a >by-election in Muzaffarnagar after a polarising campaign. If this is an indication that the SP is regretting its obvious strategy in 2013 to play along with the BJP’s divisive politics in the hope that it would consolidate the anti-BJP votes to its advantage, the party would have to do much more to come clean. The fissures that started showing in September 2013 have grown with time. These have to be addressed administratively, by providing compensation to the victims and bringing the guilty to book. But they cannot be fixed if the politics itself remains evasive, with the BJP using its Hindutva strategy to consolidate its vote and its opponents side-stepping the issue for fear of giving Hindutva more oxygen. The Narendra Modi government made a statement about where it stands by making one of the accused, Sanjeev Balyan, a Union Minister. That the Samajwadi Party government and the Opposition parties refuse to engagingly contest the anodyne conclusions of the Sahai report is a depressing indication that, for now, the political healing touch needed to rectify the wrongs of 2013 is absent.