The most populous state in the country, Uttar Pradesh, is unfortunately a socially and economically backward state. Politically, the state is always in a zone of turbulence. The irony is much too obvious. UP has fertile land and agriculture is booming but its farmers are neither well-off nor are they able to access education and health care. Investment in industry and the services sectors too has been far from satisfactory.
This serves as a dampener on creating jobs and economic progress. There is also the grandiose notion among the state’s leaders about UP’s political primacy in the country. Unfortunately and paradoxically, it is the politics of the state that vitiates social peace and order. The worsening communal situation in which the state currently finds itself heightens the covert and overt tensions, rendering the situation bleak. The connection between the socio-economic profile and communal friction can’t be denied. It is the refusal to make this connection that distorts and renders ineffective any understanding of communalism as it operates in UP today.
It would be naive to believe that economic development will banish communalism in UP or anywhere else. Realistically speaking, communalism has to be accepted as a given and ways have to be found so that it does not disturb public peace. The Samajwadi Party government of Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav is clearly at fault for not dealing firmly with the troublemakers. The Jat-Muslim-Dalit clashes in Muzaffarnagar last year to the averted Sikh-Muslim clash in Saharanpur last month and the Meerut incident where a young Hindu woman has complained of sexual assault and forced religious conversion reveal the social fault line dividing the communities. Such ground realities have the potential of a conflagration unless the administration deals with the situation firmly and fairly.
The two major political players in the state who contribute to communal amity or its breakdown and derive political advantage from it are the Samajwadi Party, which is in power in the state and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is in power at the Centre. The two parties fought a fierce Lok Sabha electoral battle in April and May this year, and the BJP emerged a clear winner. The SP is keen to regain its hold in the state and the BJP would like to consolidate it gains. The SP professes to be a secular party but it is clear that it is keen to win the Muslim vote on the promise of safeguarding the community’s interests.
The BJP, on its part, while professing belief in amity among all communities does not let go of an opportunity to support the perceived Hindu and Sikh grievances. The partisan views on both sides may arise from political compulsions. But they do not help in maintaining peace and order in the state.
Both the SP and the BJP have to commit themselves to not allowing their respective political agendas and strategies to come in the way when dealing with an inter-community dispute and issue. Apart from allowing the local administration to deal with the situation in an impartial manner, the two parties on the ground must reach out to members of all communities and help in keeping the peace. The SP should not give the impression that it will not take action against Muslim groups, and the BJP, the RSS and its affiliates must not add fuel to the fire by speaking out against the Muslim community at large at a time when the situation is tense and grave.