It is almost a seven-hour drive to Kasganj from Delhi. The highway beyond Aligarh does no credit to successive governments and it comes as a relief when the destination is finally reached. Bang on the banks of the river Ganga, Kasganj is known for its ‘Sonpapri’ and has an overwhelming Hindu population. Out of 100,000-odd people, local residents put the number of Hindus at 80,000 and that of Muslims at 20,000.
But, and this is important, many of the Muslims are relatively well off, running businesses, warehouses etc. besides being engaged in agriculture. The sleepy and dusty hamlet has been in the news since the Republic Day this year following communal violence in which a Hindu got killed by firing and a Muslim sustained a serious bullet injury.
So, even as ‘Who killed Chandan Gupta’ trended on Twitter and the Police claimed that the Hindu had been shot by a Muslim resident, the question about who shot the Muslim is neither asked nor answered. Were they caught in a cross-fire? Could they have been killed in police firing? There are no clear answers so far.
What is clear, however, is that both Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthy Parishad (ABVP) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) had been asked by the RSS to take out rallies with the tricolour before and after the Republic Day. Small rallies were taken out in several places in Uttar Pradesh but while disturbances were not reported from any other place, the relatively peaceful Kasganj, which has not witnessed a riot since 1990, people say, witnessed mayhem.
What is also clear is that the 200-250 VHP and ABVP activists who took out the bike rally had no permission to do so. This was after all the Republic Day and security was put on high alert. And both videos circulating and eyewitness accounts make it clear that the rallyists carried more saffron flags than the tricolour.
Maulana Chand Miyan was present in the 150-strong gathering of mostly Muslim residents who had assembled for the annual flag hoising ceremony at the Hamid Chowk, when the motorcycle-borne activists from various saffron outfits approached them through the narrow bylanes of Badoo Nagar. One of the two Muslim dominated neighbourhoods of Kasganj, Badoo Nagar, where the flag hoisting ceremony was taking place, has been hosting the ceremony for the past many years.
“Earlier, they avoided our neighbourhood. On occasions like the Republic Day and Independence Day, the motorcycle rallies confined themselves to the main city roads. But since the Yogi Adityanath government came to power, there have been attempts at instigating and polarising the communities,” Chand Miyan says.
There is consensus that the situation spun out of control over the ‘right of way’. While the motorcycle-borne, slogan-shouting youth wanted the passage to be cleared, the organisers asked them to wait till the flag-hoisting got over. This led to arguments, scuffle and abusive slogans shouted by the outsiders, targeting the minority community.
But the intruders were outnumbered and had to beat a hasty retreat, leaving nearly 50 bikes behind as they fled the locality. Soon, the VHP and ABVP activists re-assembled elsewhere in the city and began vandalising and torching shops owned by the Muslims. The mob targeted Muslim houses and establishments and this was when Chandan Gupta and the Muslim bystander received gunshot injuries.
“We haven’t been doing anything. They came to our neighbourhood and raised provocative slogans, yet the police are carrying out search operations in our homes. Look at the police presence here. It is not needed,” Chand says.
“Rajveer Singh, the local BJP MP, gave a very provocative speech promising revenge the day Chandan Gupta died. As a local MP, should he have made such remarks in a volatile situation,” asks Chand.
“Before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Rajveer’s wife went around asking for votes saying that she was the daughter-in-law of the person (former CM Kalyan Singh) who helped bring down Babri Masjid. Now, it is his son,” Chand adds.
He hopes that common sense would prevail like it has so far, and Kasganj could take a cue from its peaceful past to deal with the sectarian monster that is being created by the BJP.