Uttarakhand ‘love jihad’ controversy — BJP game plan for 2024 Lok Sabha polls

Is an attempt being made to make Uttarakhand, like Gujarat, a cauldron of toxic Hindutva that bubbles over?

A poster threatening 'love jihadists' to shut their shops (photo courtesy @MuslimSpaces/Twitter)
A poster threatening 'love jihadists' to shut their shops (photo courtesy @MuslimSpaces/Twitter)

Trilochan Bhatt

Is the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) staring at defeat in all five Lok Sabha seats in Uttarakhand in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections?

Is communal tension being created and fanned to cover up the political weakness of the ruling party? Is an attempt being made to make Uttarakhand, like Gujarat, a laboratory of Hindutva?

In view of the communal tensions reported from various towns in Uttarakhand recently, such questions are being asked.

The Purola incident, where Muslims were asked to leave their home and vacate their shops is a living example of this.

The love affair of a Hindu boy and a girl has been termed ‘love jihad’ just because one of their friends belongs to the Muslim community.

On May 26, when all three had gone for a walk near Purola market, some people surrounded them and created a ruckus, accusing the Muslim boy of trapping the minor Hindu girl in ‘love jihad’.

A day after, Hindutva organisations took out a big procession in Purola. Shops of the Muslim community were closed and attacked by the Hindutva activists.

Posters, asking Muslims to leave the area were pasted on shops belonging to the Muslim community.

An organization called Hindu Raksha Abhiyan issued a warning that if the people of the Muslim community did not vacate Purola by June 15, then they themselves would be responsible for it.

“Only time will tell what will happen to them (Muslims),” the posters, released by Hindu Raksha Abhiyan read.

As per the locals, the minor girl was in love with a Hindu boy, named Jitendra Saini who comes from Bijnor. The Muslim boy, Ubaid Khan also comes from Bijnor and opened a shop in front of Jitendra’s shop.

Jitendra and Ubaid Khan both are good friends, say locals. Ubaid Khan was only helping his friend but the Hindutva forces used this as a pretext to vilify and villainise Muslims.

Though police arrested both Jitendra and Ubaid after a complaint was filed, it was only the Muslim community which faced the outrage and attacks on their properties.

According to an estimate, there are about 45 shops belonging to the Muslim community in Purola. All shops are closed since May 28. Most of the Muslim shopkeepers have fled Purola overnight. At least 6 Muslim shopkeepers have packed their goods and left the town forever.

Attacks on Muslims took place after the head of the Hindu Raksha Abhiyan, Swami Darshan Bharti gave a call for a Mahpanchayat on June 15. A big rally was organised by on May 28 in Purola, but the heat of this incident was felt all over Uttarkashi.

Apart from Purola, such bandhs were also organized in Mori, Barkot, and Uttarkashi by right-wing activists.

A procession against love jihad was also taken out at Nainbagh in Tehri district, bordering Uttarkashi district. The slogan to free Uttarakhand from Muslims is being raised in all such gatherings.

To take stock of the present situation, the author of this story visited Purola, and noted that the poison of communalism has been injected in every vein of society in Uttarakhand.

Local residents are also vocal in their anti-Muslim protests; however, they do not have any concrete reasons as to why they are against the Muslims.

When asked, most people repeated what they have heard. There are very few people who see the recent incidents of ‘love jihad’ as conspiracy.

Such people say that the BJP, which is on a weak footing in Uttarakhand, is adopting the policy of communal polarization to win the 2024 elections.

Advocate Ravindra Singh Rawat says a few miscreates are trying to disturb the peace of Purola. People from both communities have been living in harmony for many years, said Rawat.

On the other hand, some people also called it ‘political’.

A young man preparing for competitive exams living in Purola said that all this is being done to divert attention from rising unemployment. On the condition of anonymity, the youth claimed that in fact, after the police lathi charged the unemployed in Dehradun, there is an anti-BJP wave in the whole of Uttarakhand.

BJP knows that in 2024 the conditions are conducive. In such a situation, according to analysts, the saffron party is adopting a strategy to win the election by diverting attention and showing fear of Muslims to the people.

According to the local residents, before the May 26 uproar, about 200 people from the Muslim community were living in Purola, and 45 shops in the market were owned by Muslims.

Islam (name changed) says that his family has been living in Purola for the last 50 years. His father had come to Purola and started a business of readymade garments.

Islam himself was born in Purola but he is living in fear now in his birthplace.

He wants to leave the place, but he has no place to go. Similarly, Hanif (name changed) whose family has been living in Purola for decades, says SDM did not meet him for hours when he went to submit a memorandum to him.

The SDM after a long wait meet him but did not say anything except, “We will look into it”.

Disappointed, Hanif went to the police station at Purola Bazar to plead for security. Hanif says he urged the SHO to deploy at least four constables at every Muslim businessman’s shop.

He also asked the Purola police to deploy Pradeshik Armed Constabulary (PAC) in the market.

Purola is not alone in Uttarakhand, where incidents of minorities being harassed in the name of ‘love jihad’ are reported.

In Gauchar too, a case of alleged ‘love jihad’ was reported in the past. It was alleged that two Muslim youths had taken a local Hindu minor girl to a hotel room. People caught both of them and handed them over to the police. After this incident, Hindutva organisations also took out a procession in Gauchar and asked the people of the Muslim community to leave the city.

In protest against these alleged incidents of ‘love jihad’ Hindutva organizations took out a rally in Uttarkashi district headquarters as well as in Mori and Barkot.

In recent days in Uttarakhand, attempts were made to create communal tension in places like Chakrata, Imlikheda, Tuni etc. In Dehradun too, an attempt was made to create a ruckus in a school for organising an Eid programme.

It is worth noting here that the little-known organization ‘Uttarakhand Raksha Abhiyan’ was found to be involved in most such cases. The leader of the organization, Swami Darshan Bharti, was present in Purola on 28 May and was leading the protest.

Notably, shops belonging to minority communities were attacked in Purola on the same day.

Black crosses were put up in some shops and community members were threatened. After widespread reporting and backlash on social media, the police registered a case, but it was registered against unknown people.

Swami Darshan Bharti, who led the protest ‘love jihad’ targeting Muslims, posted a photo on Facebook in which he is seen having a meeting with the police officers.

Meanwhile, on May 9, demonstrations and memorandums were submitted at several places in the state against mob violence and harassment of minority community people in the name of ‘love jihad’.

Demonstrations were mainly held in Dehradun, Bageshwar, Nainital, Rishikesh, Ramnagar, Pauri, Tehri, Kotdwar, Almora, and memorandums were submitted, expressing displeasure over the atmosphere of hatred being created across the state.

Protesters alleged that the BJP government, in place of putting a break on incidents of communal clashes, is fanning the narrative. Even CM Pushkar Dhami has mentioned ‘love jihad’ and ‘land jihad’ multiple times.

Members of civil society believe that comments made by the CM are aimed at instigating people against the Muslim community. Representatives of the state’s democratic organizations and opposition parties were included in the memorandum.

But the BJP government maintained a studied silence over the issue.

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