Dateline: Muzaffarnagar/politics/people

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The cosy relationship Jats and Muslims enjoyed for years in the sleepy villages of Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh was ruptured badly when the molestation of a girl and subsequent killings of three young men took a communal colour, sowing seeds of mistrust among communities. Many believe the sudden spurt of communal violence in this district is a precursor for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

Army had to be called into the district, which houses tracts of sugar cane fields and a number of steel plants and paper mills, for the first time after the trouble during demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992. This itself shows the extent of polarisation and deterioration of situation. Village elders go to the extent of saying that even during partition, there were no riots in the town. Jats and Muslims used to live in peace though they were on the opposite sides of the political divide since the death of former Prime Minister Charan Singh.

For an electoral sweep in the sugar-belt of western Uttar Pradesh, any party needs to have the support of two of the three blocks – Jats, Muslims and ‘others’. Charan Singh understood this very early and he weaved the Jat-Muslim electoral combination to emerge the winner in successive polls. But his passing away in 1987 spelt the death for this political alliance too.

Jats and Muslims drifted apart politically with the former going with Charan Singh’s son Ajit Singh, the president of Rashtriya Janatal Dal (RLD), while Muslims herded to Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav’s camp.

Though Jats and Muslims were in different political camps, it did not result in spoiling their relationship in the region. After Charan Singh’s death, Jats were voting for and Muslims for Mulayam. However, the fresh troubles have extended the political divide between the two communities to religious level due to collapse in political and administrative leadership.

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Many feel that the communal riots in Muzaffarnagar were part of a game plan. The district, with a population of 41.43 lakh men and women residing in 4,049 square kilometres, may not be the chosen one but the first opportunity was grabbed. The worrying signal is that the spread of communal conflict in rural areas and reversing the trend of riots starting in rural areas.

POLITICS

As the communal divide deepens, many see it as an exercise aimed at electoral polarisation with Lok Sabha polls in mind. Theories and speculation are abounding on who is going to benefit from the polarisation.

Who stands to gain from the dismantling of the Jat-Muslim alliance is a million dollar question as elections are still seven-eight months. BJP may believe. It may be jumping the guns to derive a conclusion at this time as it all depends how the principal players like BSP, Samajwadi Party, RLD, Congress and BJP use the opportunity in the coming months.

But one thing for sure that the disenchantment among Muslims in Muzaffarnagar with the Samajwadi Party is spreading and Mulayam is in all probability going to lose huge chunk of minority community votes. It may not be the Muslim votes alone, he may also stand to lose Hindu votes too because of the dismal performance of the government led by his son Akhilesh Yadav. The general perception is that BSP and BJP will gain from the polarisation.

BJP is trying hard to win over influential Jat leaders like Rakesh Tikait, the son of late Mahendra Singh Tikait, while BSP is wooing Muslims, who feel that the administration did not aid them in the time of troubles. Muslims need a sense of security and if Mayawati can provide it, they will go with her.

On its part, the RLD will be trying to arrest the flow of Jats from their fold to the BJP. Ajit Singh will have to convince Jats that he is the man for them and his recent statements show that he is also trying to win over Muslims to fill the gaps left by those from his community.

The recent riots have left a deep scar in Muzaffarnagar and the sugar belt and to build harmony would be a task for the parties. A fresh bout of violence would mean that the thin thread, which still exists between Muslims and Jats, would be broken forever. Erasing the mistrust among communities will be a Herculean task as villagers have started talking in terms of ‘them and us’.

Despite stories of a section of Jats helping Muslims at the time of difficulty, Muslims still fear to go back to their villages. Nobody applied balm to the frayed tempers. Both groups believe the administration favoured the other. The collapse of administration and political leadership led to the sowing of mistrust, which now appears to have become irreversible.

It is here where the role of political parties will come — to bring back peace and amity in the region and ensure that the day-to-day living goes on as usual.

However, the question remains whether the fire lit in Muzaffarnagar for a communal polarisation ahead of general election will spread to other parts of the country. The UPA-led government feels so and has asked states like Jammu and Kashmir, UP, Karnataka and Bihar to be on the watch. The country witnessed a spate of terrorist attacks in 2008, including the deadly Mumbai attacks. Like this, will communal riots be the norm of the day before the elections?

GROUND ZERO

Jats blame it on the attack on those people who were returning from a ‘Mahapanchayat’ called to decide on the killings of two youths belonging to the community. Muslims, fearing retribution, appeared to have chosen offence as the best defence and attacked them while the Jats were returning.

The fresh bout of violence, the third one in a year in Muzaffarnagar, assumed larger proportions this time and for the first time, there was a mass exodus of Muslims from villages where they are in a minority. They refuse to return to their villages as the riots left a deep scar in Muzaffarnagar and the sugar belt.

In western UP, the two communities have lived in peace, sharing historical links. Both communities have gained from the agricultural revolution. There were social and political differences but communal amity was not disturbed.

A fresh bout of violence would mean that the thin thread, which still exists between Muslims and Jats, would be broken forever. Erasing the mistrust among communities will be a Herculean task as villagers have started talking in terms of ‘them and us’.

The exodus of the Muslims, with just what they were wearing and leaving whatever little they have at their houses, shows this. Travel to any Muslim dominated village in Muzaffarnagar district, one can see people from other villages fleeing their in search of security. The fear is palpable. In Shahpur, around 20 km from Muzaffarnagar town, there are over a 1,000 Muslim families from five villages seeking shelter in ‘Islamabad basti’. One can see scores of women sitting in open space in the basti while a common kitchen where food is being prepared. Wait for another ten days or so and only then, we will decide whether to return, says one of the villagers.

Despite stories of a section of Jats helping Muslims at the time of difficulty, Muslims still fear to go back to their villages. Nobody applied balm to the frayed tempers. Both groups believe the administration favoured the other. The collapse of administration and political leadership led to the sowing of mistrust, which now appears to have become irreversible.

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This is despite some powerful Jats in some villages extending a helping hand to Muslims under attack. Some village heads took scores of Muslims to their own houses, provided shelter, security and food. Some of them even transported Muslims to safety after they found that the minority community members were not safe in their villages. However, individual help was not enough for Muslims to stay in their own villages.

What the Muslims are looking for is security for themselves and their property, which they claim is not forthcoming. The fleeing of Muslims also shows that the Jat community calls the shot in villages where they have a majority. On the camera, they may say they want the Muslims to return but at the same time, they do not hesitate to claim that it was the other side, which started it all.

The locals blame it on administration and politicians for the fresh violence. They feel that a political game was played on them with elections in mind. Theories are abound about political realignment but people in the western UP are keeping their cards close to their chest though they show their clear anger against the present Samajwadi Party government. The question remains whether the fire lit in Muzaffarnagar for a communal polarisation ahead of general election will spread to other parts of the country.

(This article is an amalgamation of two articles I wrote. Part of it were published by Deccan Herald in its Spotlight page on Sep 15, 2013)

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  1. Trackback: Ajit Singh makes crafty moves | searching for blue pencil

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