It is difficult to believe that the senseless communal violence that has engulfed Muzaffarnagar district was a spontaneous reaction to the lynching of two young men belonging to the Jat community by a group of Muslims. While the circumstances surrounding this isolated incident in which a Muslim youth was also killed are yet to be conclusively identified, the district and state administration have much to answer for.
The incident happened on August 27 and there were indications for several days that a volatile situation was building up. The discontent stemmed from a perception, true or otherwise, that the police were favouring the minority community. The Samajwadi Party which counts on Muslims as its prized votebank and touts itself as the protector of the community’s interests only helped to further this perception.
In the run-up to the September 7 mahapanchayat, sporadic incidents of violence and incitement to violence were being reported. On September 5, the BJP also jumped into the communal cesspool by calling a bandh. That the district administration was well-aware that the mahapanchayat was a precursor to mayhem is evident from its decision to issue prohibitory orders. Why then was the mahapanchayat allowed to take place?
This has made it difficult to disbelieve suggestions that a conspiracy was plotted to fan communal passions through inflammatory speeches at the mahapanchayat. Worryingly, the spiral of violence led by organised mobs roaming the countryside and targetting vulnerable people, mostly Muslims, has now spread to the neighbouring districts too.
Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s young age, his freshness and his promise of a break with the past was touted to the hilt by an indulgent media when he stormed to power last year. Sadly, the state has seen over 40 minor and major incidents of communal violence since then.
For UP, which looked to have put its troubled history of communal violence behind it during Mayawati’s rule, Akhilesh’s inability to deliver on most fronts is worrisome. Further undermining the office and prestige of the Chief Minister and his government is his doting father Mulayam Singh and the SP’s Muslim face Azam Khan. Media reports claim that top officials are directly reporting to Mulayam on the developments and that Khan has blamed his own administration for the mishandling of the situation.
The SP and BJP have been accusing each other of minority and majority communalism respectively. Conversely, the Congress and the BSP claim that the SP and the BJP have much to gain by polarising UP. The VHP’s aborted march to Ayodhya and the SP’s machinations against Durga Shakti Nagpal on the ground of endangering communal harmony were cynical attempts at stoking trouble where none existed.
The incidence and absence of communal violence in India has been found to have a directly proportionate link with the complicity or tolerance of the state government and its officials. Akhilesh’s predecessor Mayawati is belatedly getting credit for her no-nonsense approach to law and order that ensured no communal rioting occurred. Now, 41 lives have been lost and several thousand victims have fled their homes. The SP must make amends. If not, demands for President’s Rule will grow louder.