The anger directed at UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav and his Samajwadi Party by Muslims during his visit to riot-hit Muzaffarnagar on Sunday is a grim reminder of the bitter harvest that political parties adept at cynical exploitation of their votebanks can hope to reap. Across Muzaffarnagar’s villages, Muslims vented their ire at him for failing to protect their life and property. At the precise moment, when it was most needed, Akhilesh’s government was conspicuous by its absence. The chain of events that the September 7 mahapanchayat which was allowed to convene despite ban orders let loose, was a clear failure of governance. With Muslims suffering the most, the SP’s credentials as the benefactor of the Muslim community stands substantially damaged.
Now the SP has been accused, perhaps unfairly, of a diabolic political compact no worse than communalism. All opposition parties have accused it of tapping the fear psychosis engendered by communal riots as an opportunity to firmly hitch the Muslim community to its bandwagon. The inability to dispel this notion stems from a fundamental weakness that has dogged successive SP governments. The virtue that the SP makes of granting political protection and patronage to Muslims militates against its inability to implement the Sachar Committee recommendations. Unable to meet the community’s genuine aspirations for education and jobs or offer protection, in the aftermath of Muzaffarnagar, it is Muslims who are questioning the SP’s “secularism”.
While it is unclear whether the culture of identity politics practised in UP has space for a Muslim-dominated party like the Indian Union Muslim League or the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, the ground has been laid for a massive political realignment. Identity politics have stemmed from genuine subaltern concerns about lack of development. The Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) backed by the Jats, the SP’s Yadav-Muslim alliance, and the BSP’s Dalit base have all fetched significant political influence and considerable benefits for their communities. The Muzaffarnagar riots have destroyed the Jat-Muslim social fabric in Western UP. The BJP and Ajit Singh’s RLD are locked in a desperate battle for Jat votes.
The RLD remains undecided on approaching Muslims who had drifted to the SP for fear of antagonising Jats. The BSP and the Congress, whose leaders have descended on Muzaffarnagar, also sense the Muslim vote is now theirs for the taking. For Mulayam, whose politics and governance have rarely advanced beyond social engineering, this is the second time he has disappointed the Muslim community.
They forgave his short-lived alliance with Kalyan Singh, who had presided over the Babri Masjid demolition. But the several incidents of communal rioting in UP since Akhilesh took charge has upset all communities, especially Muslims. Mulayam’s meeting with VHP leaders before their aborted rally to Ayodhya, the SP’s attempt to communalise the disciplinary action against IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal, and its cold disregard for the Muzaffarnagar violence before it snowballed, all point to a dangerous double-game.
The proponents of secularism have often been its most cynical practitioners. With hardliner Amit Shah grooming the UP BJP to expose such double standards, the competing and complementing politics of communalism and secularism that the BJP and the SP have perfected will dominate the pollscape in the run-up to 2014.