Muzaffarnagar: On a government nowhere to be seen

Muzaffarnagar was a laboratory ahead of Lok Sabha polls. Four months have gone by after the worst communal mayhem in western Uttar Pradesh and hundreds of riot victims in Muzaffarnagar are still staring at an uncertain destiny. Death and despair is what defines the lives of victims spending their nights facing the fury of a relentless winter in relief camps.

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I spoke to Badri Narayan, Professor of Social History and Cultural Anthropology at GB Pant Social Science Institute in Allahabad’s Jhusi on riots, governance in UP and how communal cauldron may change electoral  on December 27, 2013 for Deccan Herald.

Riots happened in August and the victims remain a hapless lot. Has governance completely broken down in UP so that one cannot get relief in such situations? 

You might have seen how administration dealt with riots. It shows that governance is in bad shape. You are hearing everyday about Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav scolding this minister or that bureaucrat saying they should not do this or that. I am not able to understand why they are not able to do provide relief to Muslims, who are one of their core bases. Why are they not able to help them out? It means governance is not in their hands. Either they do not have expertise or they are just inefficient.

Didn’t the victims deserve a better deal?

Those in camps are facing a very bad time. In this severe cold, they are without proper blankets, not enough water and no toilets. People are suffering from diseases and some have succumbed. As the government has failed in attending to their problems, now the leadership is talking against victims. Mulayam’s recent remarks that those staying in relief camps are conspirators belonging to Congress and BJP shows that desperation. The whole discourse has turned for worse.

UP government also came with compensation for Muslims, which invited criticism from Supreme Court. Is SP playing the communal card? 

SP tried to do communal politics. In UP, Muslims have become anti-SP now. They are inclined to move towards Congress. But Congress is not able to capture this segment, as they have no visibility at the grassroots. Muslims are known for strategic voting. I feel, in eastern UP where the Congress is strong, Muslims will vote for them and in other places, they may vote for parties like SP or BSP, which can win against BJP. BSP this time will improve the votes they get Muslims.

People know what happened in Muzaffarnagar. But the question is why Muzaffarnagar riots happened?

It happened because of SP and BJP. Both are eager to perform well in this key state in the general elections. Mulayam is eager as he has ambitions of becoming Prime Minister. It appears that there was some consensus on mobilising Muslims and Hindus. But the grammar of communal riots is that we cannot control riots once it becomes big. Those who organise communal riots believe that they can control its pace. But when it flares up, they cannot control. May be, they wanted to have small tensions but when it happened, it happened in a big scale. On SP side, you have Azam Khan delivering fiery speeches and on the other, the BJP-RSS using the plank of honour of women for mobilisation. First time, you witnessed riots in the villages.

BJP was very worried that they wanted to mobilise Hindus through Hindutva plank by creating small-small communal movements, riots in UP. It was their tactics. They created small-small communal tensions in UP, which is a very key state for the Parliamentary elections. They were very anxious how to mobilise Hindu/Hindutva votes. Development is okay but you cannot emotionally charge people everytime using it and get people out of their homes to vote for Modi. Development cannot alone win votes. So it was development with Hindutva.

So they decided to play the Hindu-Muslim game. Thats why Giriraj Kishore and all went to meet Chief Minister. Akhilesh Yadav even could not sit infront of them. They got a lot of respect from Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Then there was the RSS’ Beti Bahu Bachao campaign. This is an old RSS tactics. Using women’s honour for mobilisation, that Muslims are insulting our women, having relationship with Hindus, that they are doing this and they are doing that. They made it an emotional issue for any Hindu, or any Muslim or anybody. First time, in the villages you witnessed riots. Riots are an urban phenomenon.

You mean to say that Muzaffarnagar riots may have an effect on the Lok Sabha elections in UP, especially among Muslims? Will it consolidate Hindu votes also?

Already RSS is trying to disseminate the message of Muzaffarnagar riots. Statements coming from certain VHP leaders points towards that. Then there is mobilisation in the name of Modi, an image spread by media of a man of development. That image may be spread to rural areas also. Then they will also play the backward caste card to project Modi among rural masses. I will call this a political narrative based on ‘development+’, which means development plus hindutva plus backward caste card. The riots may have an effect across UP and there may be resonance in other states too, especially among Muslims.

The riots had broken the ages-old Muslim-Jat relationship in the sugar belt. There are many theories about political realignment in UP that Jats have moved on to BJP from Ajit Singh’s RLD. Has the relationship between Muslims and Jats have broken?

You should understand the mechanics of communal riots. The conflict always happens with those who are your neighbours and not with those who are far. They were intimate neighbours and they had love and hatred for each other at the same time. That hatred part was mobilised by BJP. This harmed the social fabric. It will take long time to repair that relationship.

Amidst all these, how is BSP placed? 

BSP support base in UP is strong enough. But in western UP, they are also in loss because Balmikis and Jatavs, a core base of BSP, are becoming sympathetic towards BJP. Mayawati understands this and that is why she is very anxious about it. But her base in eastern and central UP is intact. But the kind of mobilisation, if the Brahmins and other upper caste, who supported Mayawati in the previous elections, may move towards BJP, that could be a loss for BSP.

With Delhi elections throwing a surprise, do you foresee an AAP surge in UP?

No, I don’t think AAP will be successful in UP. AAP is a middle-class phenomenon of metros. In UP, you do not have such an audience.

PS: India has witnessed 725 communal incidents this year till November 28 in which 143 were killed and 1978 injured. Uttar Pradesh was at the top of the list with 250 incidents in which 95 were killed and 113 injured.

(An edited excerpts of this interview appeared in Deccan Herald’s Spotlight Section on Decemb er 29, 2013)

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