From riots to reconciliation

Farmers attend the ‘Kisan Mahapanchayat’ in Shamli district of Uttar Pradesh on February 5, 2021.   | Photo Credit: PTI

The beauty of liberal democracy is that it offers space to sociopolitical movements that contribute to political discourses in a manner that political parties often fail to do. India’s anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests and the ongoing farmers’ movement have been able to subvert Hindutva narratives in their own ways and have renewed the appeal for secular politics.

Since the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, Hindutva politics has become hegemonic, particularly in western Uttar Pradesh, and religious polarisation has become the only game in town. However, farmer leader Rakesh Tikait’s slogan, “Allahu Akbar, Har Har Mahadev”, at a recent mahapanchayat in Muzaffarnagar has sent a message of Hindu-Muslim unity in that riot-torn city. One mahapanchayat certainly cannot repair the enormous damage that Hindutva politics has inflicted on the secular social fabric of western Uttar Pradesh or the rest of India. But what is comforting is that at least an attempt is being made to turn the page.


Birth of an iconic slogan

This slogan has a long history, which can be traced to the early days of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), led by Mahendra Singh Tikait. During its early days in the late 1980s, the BKU organised a major protest over farmers’ issues. Two farmers — Akbar Ali, a Muslim, and Jai Pal, a Hindu — were killed in police firing during that protest. Keeping their bodies on the main road, the BKU continued the protest. The iconic slogan was born there to celebrate and symbolise the BKU’s secular structure.

One of Tikait’s comrade-in-arms was Ghulam Mohammad Jola. After Mahendra Singh Tikait’s death in May 2011, his sons, particularly Rakesh Tikait, began to speak the language of the Hindu Right thus threatening the secular nature of the movement. Provoked by the Tikait sons’ behaviour and the 2013 riots, Mr. Jola broke away from the BKU and formed his own farmers’ union, the Bharatiya Kisan Mazdoor Manch (BKMM). This outfit had a new slogan: “Ek Ho, Nek Ho (Come together, Be Pious)”. In a recent interview to this author, Mr. Jola, an octogenarian, described Mahendra Singh Tikait as a quintessential secular leader. With great enthusiasm, he recalled how the senior Tikait had once urged him and a couple of Muslim farmers to offer Friday namaz on the premises of Har Ki Pauri in Hardwar during a protest since the nearest mosque was located more than 8 km away. When people complained, the senior Tikait apparently assuaged them by saying, “He was offering namaz and namaz is not an abuse.” The region that once displayed such understanding of religious harmony is now the hotbed of religious polarisation.

New attempt at polarisation

Although the 2013 riots took place during the tenure of Akhilesh Yadav, it was the BJP that drew enormous electoral capital from it. Some even consider the 2013 riots to have created the background for the Modi wave that swept north India. Some evidence of the ebbing of religious polarisation is visible now, but there are also attempts being made to polarise Uttar Pradesh around the conversion issue. A prominent cleric of Muzaffarnagar, Maulana Kaleem Siddiqui, was recently arrested for allegedly running the “biggest conversion syndicate”. That Muslims of all rank and file are busy preaching Islam and are converting Hindus to Muslims in every nook and corner of the country with the sole objective of turning India into a Muslim land has been one of the Hindu Right’s most favourite campaigns. The attempts by Uttar Pradesh’s governing regime to weaponise this campaign using state might are likely to dominate political conversations over the forthcoming Assembly elections. One is not too sure how far this polarisation can help the incumbent regime’s electoral ambitions. But the farmers’ movement has clearly disrupted the Hindutva narrative and has ignited the need for Hindu-Muslim reconciliation, at least in western Uttar Pradesh.

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Shaikh Mujibur Rehman teaches at Jamia Millia Islamia Central University and is the author of the forthcoming book, Shikwa-e- Hind: The Political Future of Indian Muslims

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2021 12:12:05 AM |

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