Communalism is making a loud comeback in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar after a lull of nearly two decades. The communal violence of Muzaffarnagar has displaced approximately 50,000 Muslims from their villages. Sharp lines have been drawn between the Jat and Muslim communities.
The displaced are now being taken care of by their fellow Muslims. State officials believe, according to a report by a team of concerned citizens, that ‘only Muslims can provide solace to them’. Akhir Jat Ban gaya Hindu, (Jats have turned into Hindus) proclaims a popular Hindi daily. The ferocity and scale of the violence makes it clear that it could not have been a spontaneous outburst of anger.
It would be a folly to say that riots, like the one that erupted in and engulfed Muzzafarnagar, are planned centrally and executed locally. Now various explanations in the public domain educate us about the unique social composition of Muzaffaranagar.
They tell us about the role of local factors like the BSP leaders mobilizing Muslims as part of their party’s agenda of weaning them away from the Samajwadi Party, or the attempt of the SP itself to use ‘Hinduisation’ to lure Jats away from their old community patriarch Charan Singh’s scions.
Along with all this was the persistent campaign by various loosely connected outfits of the Sangh Parivar reminding Jats of their ‘Hindu-ness’, which essentially means hatred and suspicion toward Muslims.
It is also said that the Hindutva brigade took advantage of the insecurity of the Jats regarding their girls by perpetuating the myth of the ‘Love Jihad’, the alleged ‘crusade’ Muslims are waging to lure Hindu girls away from their religion and community.
The ‘Love Jihad’ myth began in Gujarat as a campaign and has taken roots even in Kerala and Karnataka. Protecting the girls and the cows from lustful and bloodthirsty Muslims should be the sacred duty of all Hindus, is the refrain of this campaign. Do Muslims spare girls from the backward and Dalit communities?
These communities might have forsaken the Hindu identity but Muslims still treat them as such. At least in these matters these communities need to come together as Hindus, so goes the Hindutva logic.
It was assumed after the advent of the politics of social justice in Kerala and Karnataka that communalism has run its course and now it would be difficult to stitch back the fragmented social identities of Dalits and OBCs into the meta-Hindu-identity of the past.
Theorists assured us that the newly founded caste-based social identities have permanently weakened the hegemony of the Hindu identity which served as the bulwark of the majoritarian communal politics. Muslim politics also underwent a change. Emergence of the Pasmanda politics among Muslims brought to the fore new social aspirations and groupings.
It was hoped that this new kind of identity politics would erase the old, familiar Hindu-Muslim fault lines. The grammar of politics had changed forever and the old secular-communal binary did not hold.
Absence of communal conflicts in Bihar during Lalu Prasad Yadav’s regime was perhaps the only feature that Nitish Kumar did not want to disown. He was much envied by all secular politicians because he had snatched the social justice platform from the inefficient Lalu and at the same time tamed and neutralized the communal politics of the BJP.
Regimes of both these leaders of the politics of social justice ensured that there was no communal conflict. What has happened to the social arrangement Nitish Kumar forged after he had parted ways with the BJP is, however, a different story. Ten communal conflicts have taken place in the last four months in Bihar and more cannot be ruled out in future.
What has gone wrong then? First, we need to note that the new politics of caste identity has also reinforced old, upper-caste solidarities. Brahmin, Kshatriya, Brahmarshi Sabhas have reemerged and the logic of electoral politics has forced the forces of social justice to strike strategic alliances with them.
Mayawati brazenly organized Brahmin Sammelans. At one point or the other all leaders have forged alliances with the BJP. One needs to remember that neither the upper caste nor the OBC nor Dalit leadership ever had any problem with the politics of religious nationalism which the BJP espouses.
Under their regimes they have always allowed ideological education, which is carried out by different outfits of the Sangh family in very different ways.
Meanwhile, the Sangh has also made smart strategic changes in its methods. It has allowed, rather encouraged, persons from backward communities to take leadership roles. It has also started speaking the language of identity politics. Narendra Modi is being presented in Bihar as a leader from the extremely backward caste and not as a Hindu leader.
Regional parties have also made common cause with the BJP.
The BJP does not have issues with fragmentary tendencies like the Rabha or Bodo movement. The most horrific mass killing of Muslims after 2002, incidentally has taken place in these areas.
It is an irony of sorts that the emergence of caste identity politics also meant in a way the slow demise of secular politics. The BJP has also taken into account the caste factor and experimented with different kinds of leaders in different states. The continued presence of its governments in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh has also helped strengthen its credentials as a party which can give stable governance.
One needs to remember that the Sangh has never believed in a puritanical Hindutva. Its endeavour has always been to somehow be part of the power structure, even if it meant withdrawal of some of its key demands. Such opportunism has always helped the BJP expand its base in areas it could not have entered on its own. It has also allowed autonomous Hindutva agents and allies like Yogi Adityanath to flourish.
Discussions on communal politics in the last decade have largely been obsessed with Gujarat and Narendra Modi. Analysts have also ignored the complex relationship of caste identity politics with communal politics.
Hopefully, Muzzafarnagar should force us to look at, what Shahnawaz, a social activist from Uttar Pradesh calls the ‘democratization’ of communal politics, whereby it has gone from being the preserve of a small elite into the hands of the subalterns, with equally dangerous implications.
The author teaches Hindi at the University of Delhi and writes literary criticism