‘Muzaffarnagar model’ at play in U.P.

A woman at a relief camp following the Muzaffarnagar riots in August 2013. The clashes were reportedly triggered by hate speeches by Jat and Muslim leaders to their communities.— File photo  

“This man was killing cows near the mandi. He’s a cow murderer. Listen to what we have to say! If anyone else is caught slaughtering cows, this is what we will do to them.”

This provocative line popped up on WhatsApp screens in the last week of June, accompanied by a video clip of Bajrang Dal activists in Shamli brutally assaulting the “cow murderer.” As it went viral on the social media, communal tension in Shamli and Muzaffarnagar — the districts devastated by deadly riots exactly two years ago in August 2013 — rose, interrupting the fragile peace. Communal clashes began to be reported from different parts of western Uttar Pradesh, even from towns that had been peaceful in the recent past like Saharanpur, or those outside this region such as Faizabad. Starting mid-June, around 20-odd small and big incidents have been reported, coinciding with the start of Ramzan and later, Kanwad, two sensitive religious festivals of the minority and majority communities.

The spurt in communal incidents, many here believe, were strategically timed ahead of panchayat polls, scheduled for later this year. The clashes of August 2013 led to the emptying of villages, and communal polarisation followed by a clean sweep by the Bharatiya Janata Party in the general elections here last year.

This time, the BJP and the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) are expending their energy on these local polls, hoping the results will set the stage for the Assembly polls slated for early 2017. Panchayat elections may not be fought on party lines, but political parties try and ensure the victory of candidates politically and ideologically aligned with them.

Hate speeches

Indeed, it is the Muzaffarnagar model that is at play, with every trivial incident taking on a communal colour. The riots began in the last week of August 2013, after the murders of Shahnawaz and Sachin and Gaurav, residents of Kaval and Malakpur villages, triggered off a series of hate speeches by Jat and Muslim leaders to their respective communities: needless to say, the BJP and the SP leaders participated actively in these gatherings.

Recently, when two boys on motorbikes, one a Dalit and the other a Muslim, crashed into each other in Deoband, hundreds of people came on to the roads, pelting stones and opening fire. In another incident in Meerut, when a local farmer parked his trolley on farmland belonging to someone of another community, the incident swiftly turned communal. In both cases, the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) and the police had to be called in.

Local BJP activists told The Hindu this was “inevitable.”

“You can’t stop this.. The 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots made two things clear to Hindus here — they can’t live with Mohammedans any longer, and they can’t get justice under a SP government as it is biased towards Muslims,” said a senior aide of a prominent BJP MP, currently a Union Minister in the Narendra Modi government.

This has been said so often in speeches by BJP leaders that Dalits in Deoband repeated it, insisting that the police and the State administration are “biased” in favour of Muslims. Indeed, the views of virtually every non-Muslim this correspondent spoke to while travelling in the region were similar.

So even though the police took prompt action and arrested the Muslims reported to have started the fight in Deoband, Dalit youth continue to highlight alleged instances of the State government’s pro-Muslim bias. Topping the list of instances is how a senior SP State Minister got police officers transferred to “save” Muslim rioters during the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots. The BJP, says Shahid Manzoor, Labour Minister in the SP government, wants to neutralise the anger and disillusionment of the local Hindu farmers, largely Jats, against the Centre: “In May, everyone in U.P. was criticising the Modi government for remaining silent on the sad plight of farmers and sugarcane growers. Now the BJP wants to counter that. The easiest way is to communalise the environment.”

Indeed, so tense is the situation now that even a small fight can spark off violence.