Diminishing returns of BJP’s communal agenda in Western UP

Besides resentment over Reservation and Demonetisation, Jats in Western UP also seem upset at BJP’s divisive agenda and lukewarm interest in helping them after the riots. They are wiser after 2014

PTI Photo
PTI Photo
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Apoorvanand

Western Uttar Pradesh is reporting a change of heart. On a TV show recently, Hindu Jats declared that there was no malice between the two communities any longer. Muslims concurred. In the area ravaged by large scale violence against Muslims barely three and half years back, there is seemingly a growing realisation in the majority community that they were misled into violence.


All this is very welcome. This is happening at a time when the ruling party at the Centre has openly decided to sow fresh seeds of suspicion and hatred against Muslims in Hindu minds. It is promising anti-Romeo squads, the implicit message being that Hindu girls are under constant threat of being lured by Muslim men.


A lie is being peddled by its leaders that Muslims are forcing Hindus to flee from places like Kairana and there is an imminent danger of Muslims turning into a majority in this area. Add to it, BJP’s pledge to build a Ram Mandir in the place of the demolished Babri Masjid by ‘constitutional’ means once it gets the throne of Uttar Pradesh.


BJP in UP is perpetuating a large narrative of an incomplete task of correcting a historical wrong, peppered with small narratives of contemporary local insecurities. All living Muslims become the descendants of the temple plunderers who carry the legacy of insulting Hindus in their own land. So, as per BJP, history cannot be rectified without making the present perfect.


Not only the above mentioned TV show, journalists visiting Western UP to cover the election campaign also report sorrow and anger among the Jat Hindus, that they were fooled and made to turn against their Muslim neighbours. Hindus, if one believes the reporters, and there is no reason why we should not, are quite vocal about it. Muslims merely nod their heads in agreement. But if one reads the reports carefully, it can be seen from the reaction of the Muslims that they want to believe that it is not a temporary shift in the mood of their erstwhile fellow villagers.


So, celebrations could be premature. We ought to think about the process through which this understanding has come about. Only then would we be able to convince ourselves about the nature and quality of this broadening of the mind and enlargement of the societal heart in Western Uttar Pradesh. Also, whether this re-discovered communal amity would last or not.

PTI Photo
PTI Photo
Jat community agitates for reservation at Jassia village in Rohtak on Friday

Is polarisation receding in western UP?

We see at least two parties, the Rashtriya Lok Dal and the Bahujan Samaj Party appealing to Hindus and Muslims against falling prey to designs to deepen the divide between them. It is reported that the RLD candidates are quite candid and frank about it. They openly ask their constituents that this time they should foil the evil design of the BJP, which wants to break the identity of Jats into Hindu and Muslim.


The Samajwadi Party and the Congress are more vague in their reference to the three-year old violence. They refrain from uttering the ‘M’ word. Broad calls to not allow Uttar Pradesh to be divided can be heard from their platforms.

The BJP is becoming restless by this turn of events. With their overt anti-Muslim talk failing to excite the grounded Jats in Western UP, secret, late night meetings are being organised. We do not know the content of these deliberations but knowing who is leading them; so we can be sure that it is definitely not about love, communal harmony or bread and butter issues.

What is interesting is that Muslims also do not want to be talked about. They are cautious. They know that if they are put on the agenda, it would automatically be dubbed as communal. And their patience is being applauded. This is what they had done in Bihar. They did not open their mouth even in the face of a provocative propaganda led by no less than the Prime Minister of India.


The BJP is becoming restless by this turn of events. With their overt anti-Muslim talk failing to excite the grounded Jats in Western UP, secret, late night meetings are being organised. We do not know the content of these deliberations but knowing who is leading them; so we can be sure that it is definitely not about love, communal harmony or bread and butter issues.


We hear that Jats from adjoining states are visiting UP. Their anger resulting out of the response of the ruling party to their demand of reservation is being shared by the Jats of Western UP. They see this election as an opportunity to teach a lesson to this arrogant party.


Demonetisation is also playing its role. Sudden and forced withdrawal of cash when farmers needed it most for buying seeds and other supplements, has severely affected them. This has added to their resentment at being left to their own resources to deal with the situation arising out of the Muzaffarnagar riots three years back.

Photo by Pradeep Gaur/Mint via Getty Images
Photo by Pradeep Gaur/Mint via Getty Images
A sugarcane farmer in Muzaffarnagar; Sudden and forced withdrawal of cash when they needed it most for buying seeds and other supplements is adding to farmers’ resentment in Western Uttar Pradesh

new borders drawn after riots

Three years back, there were rumours of a Hindu girl being harassed by Muslim boys. Hindus went to the Muslim area to confront them and it led to the murder of both Hindu and subsequently Muslim boys. Temperatures rose. Rumour-mongering did the rest. Large panchayats were held amidst talks of showing the Muslims their true place. Loot, burning, murder and rapes followed. Muslims fled from their villages. Relief camps came up. Muslims became refugees in their own land.


The ruling Samajwadi Party, which is described as a pro-minority party, failed to meet the communal challenge. Other parties too did not display much courage and tell Jats that a wrong, and a grievous one, was being committed. It is not just crime, what we witnessed was sin. We did not hear these words. All parties froze into inaction in the face of Hindu anger.

The process of rebuilding Muslim lives was turned essentially into a project by Muslims themselves. The much-maligned secular, civil society groups and individuals did their bit, but it was hardly sufficient. The resource-rich Swamis and Babas, who never tire of claiming that they speak for humanity and not any religion did not appeal to the goodness of their followers, nor did the Christians, Jains or Buddhists show any fellow-feeling.

Instead of starting a dialogue with the excited Hindus and encouraging them to call back their Muslim co-villagers and show some remorse, the state government asked the shelter-less Muslims to accept a compensation package, provided they remained away from their own villages from where they were forced out. It resulted in large scale segregation of populations. Religion became the basis of neighbourhood. Security from violence and vandalism became the paramount concern.


The process of rebuilding Muslim lives was turned essentially into a project by Muslims themselves. The much-maligned secular, civil society groups and individuals did their bit, but it was hardly sufficient. The resource-rich Swamis and Babas, who never tire of claiming that they speak for humanity and not any religion did not appeal to the goodness of their followers, nor did the Christians, Jains or Buddhists show any fellow-feeling.


Meanwhile the mechanical wheel of law turned, albeit reluctantly. So, arrests followed. Young men went to jail. And the elders found themselves left to their own resources to deal with this situation they had not foreseen.


The organisations and leaders who had lit the fire believed that these arrests would further intensify the sense of injustice and alienation in the Hindus. Compensation to the displaced had already played on the prejudice that Muslims were being favoured.

New borders have been drawn. It is not just Muslims who have been forced to acclimatise to a new environment but also Hindus who have had to learn to live without Muslims in the neighbourhood.

But arrests and criminal cases were something entirely different for which Hindus were not prepared. For cases to be fought, you would need to hire lawyers and that required money. The politicians who roared about restoring Hindu pride showed lukewarm interest in this humdrum task of helping Hindus fight the legal battle. This led to gradual disenchantment, especially among the elderly. They felt helpless and all talk of Hindu dominance sounded hollow to them.


Is Hindu solidarity required only when Muslims or Christians are to be attacked? Why does it not work in normal circumstances? This is not to suggest that Hindu or Muslim solidarities are to be forged separately but it was natural for the few who had participated with others in collective acts of violence but were caught in the web of court cases, to ask why they had been left alone to deal with the aftermath.


What we see then is how a set of circumstances led to the ‘de-communalisation’ of the area. While this is undoubtedly welcome, one needs to remain alive to the fact that political and social organisations, by and large, were too weak to persuade Hindus to do what was right and were equally ineffective in bringing back the displaced Muslims to their original home.


Instead new borders have been drawn. It is not just Muslims who have been forced to acclimatise to a new environment but also Hindus who have had to learn to live without Muslims in the neighbourhood.


Lives have been scarred psychologically and emotionally. Time may heal the wounds and set us back on the right path. But the fact that human intervention had failed to keep people righteous should keep us alive to the not-yet-attempted task of forging fellow-feeling.


If the political system again fails us, we would be left to the mercy of the charlatans and demagogues. If the political system once again succeeds in engineering communal violence, our basic humanity would also come under a scanner. We have not used this period to develop processes to detoxify the societal mind. How to deal with this inadequacy is a question we need to face.

Apoorvanand teaches Hindi at the University of Delhi, and is a literary and cultural critic.

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