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Contours of communalism in India

Published Sep 11, 2013 12:13pm
In this Sept 9, 2013 photo, Indian army soldiers patrol as a woman walks past during a curfew imposed following deadly clashes between Hindus and Muslims at Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh state, India. — Photo by AP
In this Sept 9, 2013 photo, Indian army soldiers patrol as a woman walks past during a curfew imposed following deadly clashes between Hindus and Muslims at Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh state, India. — Photo by AP

There are always two major dimensions to communal violence that need to be investigated and understood for a proper analysis of what constitutes a traumatic, brutal attack on the freedoms and rights of citizens of a secular India. One is of course the complete failure and at times the complicity of the state in preventing the violence and/or controlling it well in time. The second, that is often disregarded but cannot be without serious consequences for secularism, is not really who ignited the violence but who created the conditions and the environment to make a town, village or area communally volatile.

In Muzaffarnagar there is clear evidence of both dimensions. Many have been killed, brutally; hundreds injured and thousands displaced as fear overtakes even the rural countryside that had remained relatively free of communal violence over the turbulent decades since Independence. This writer received several messages from western Uttar Pradesh over the last three weeks at least, pointing towards growing communal tension in the area. It now turns out that there was sufficient intelligence information of the same, with the Akhilesh Yadav government being informed about the impending violence. Nothing was done as the state government slept.

Instead a mahapanchayat that was little more than a gathering of political leaders from the BJP in particular was allowed to be held in the tense areas, spewing venom and inciting the villagers to take recourse to violence. The state government again ignored the provocative speeches until Muzaffarnagar burst out in flames. Given the widespread violence the state police, never competent or able, was reduced to the role of a bystander with the Army being called in to maintain law and order. Such has been the viciousness that even the Army that is out in strength is finding it difficult to contain the violence and is struggling to restore some levels of peace and equilibrium.

There is a demand now for President's rule in Uttar Pradesh and given the failure of the Samajwadi party government to tackle the communal violence that is overtaking UP, New Delhi should consider this seriously. The Chief Minister is too young and inexperienced to handle the situation and is now in that strange position where he is being attacked not just by the opposition but also by worthies from his own party, like the notorious Azam Khan. Samajwadi party President Mulayam Singh Yadav is being credited with a temper tantrum by sections of the media quoting sources. These ‘sources’ point out that ‘Netaji’ is furious with the administration, and perhaps his son as well.

The point that needs to be made here is that Akhilesh Yadav was very reluctant to become the Chief Minister, but was forced into that position by his father and uncles who now control him, and barely let the man breathe. This is not to say that he would have handled the situation any better, but to underline the fact that he was never really given a chance. And as Mulayam Singh should have known better than any other, governing UP requires exceptional administrative and political capabilities that the young man could not be expected to have brought to the job at the first instance.

So while heads roll, and the politicians slug it out, the second dimension of the violence could well find itself relegated to the background, particularly, as this would suit the BJP and its supporters in industry and the media. There was a design behind the decision to send henchman Amit Shah to Uttar Pradesh. And this is becoming more and more evident now as the BJP hand in the violence becomes visible. As a writer who has extensively covered communal violence all over the country, the story really lies in the days of preparation. Here a well knit propaganda machinery comes into play, spreading rumours and falsehoods and convincing its own vote bank that it is under threat of violence from the “other”. In the 1970s till the late 1990s this was the handiwork of both the RSS and the Jamaat-i-Islami but subsequently the latter has weakened substantially and lost the network required to spread rumours in the same manner as before. To cite a small example. Aligarh in the 1980s erupted in violence. The reason was an altercation between a biryani seller and a customer. In Muzaffarnagar the ostensible reason being given is an eve teasing incident. The actual incidents are just a trigger and quite meaningless as the ‘preparations’ by the communal forces turn the targeted town into a tinder box, where even a sneeze could be enough to ignite a fire. The conspirators have to just sit and wait it out, as given the high voltage tension, violence is inevitable.

The people as always pay the price. In the midst of the gloom, there is the story of two villagers who have resisted the violence through sanity and reason. Instead of arming themselves with knives and daggers to draw blood of the ‘other’ they have exposed the ‘conspiracy’ taking the lead to preach sense and secularism. Unfortunately the communal forces in India now have a field day in spreading the politics of hate, as there is really no counter force to stop them in their tracks. It does seem that in the initial stages, the Samajwadi party was going along with the BJP in triggering off relatively smaller incidents of communal violence, so that their respective vote banks could be consolidated. But now clearly this has boomeranged, with the violence shaking the stability of the government. It was bound to, but opportunist politicians cannot see beyond their nose, and this is where organisations like the RSS score. Instead of blaming the state government alone, Mr Azam Khan must also introspect and realise how his kind of politics also helps vitiate the secular environment.

The UP government, if it manages to remain in power now, must take immediate steps to ensure that no violence takes place as the country gears up for elections. Action has to be taken to prevent this, not just through the law and order machinery, but through a secular campaign in which all non-communal political parties participate. UP and Bihar are the target states for those determined to come to power by any means. These should also become the target states for the secular forces who should work together to ensure that the propaganda of lies is quashed before it spreads, and is overwhelmed by the message of peace and harmony. Sounds good, but of course easier said than done.

The writer is Consulting Editor, The Statesman

By arrangement with The Statesman/ANN