By Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta,
If one goes through majority of the mainstream media reports on the Muzaffarnagar riots, which displaced nearly 40000 Muslims and killed at least 50, the most important discourse that emerges is one of ‘administrative failure.’ Most reports rallied behind the notion that the riots could have been prevented if not for the state government’s laxity and delay in deploying troops in and around the riot-prone areas. However, while part of this hypothesis has some merit, it has also become a sophisticated way to couch the Sangh Parivar’s diatribes against Muslims. ‘Administrative failure,’ presented as the ‘most important angle’ of the riots has had a shrouding effect on the role of Sangh Parivar-led communal campaigns such as ‘love jehad’ in perpetuating the riots.
Not surprisingly, BJP leaders are harping on this aspect as opposed to other significant political factors leading up to the riots. A close look at the riots would help understand that the Muzaffarnagar riots, as with most riots, were nothing but a systematic and organised attempt by the Sangh Parivar to polarise votes in western UP before the 2014 parliamentary elections.
In western UP, Muslims form a sizeable population; in some places they constitute 40 per cent of the total population. While Meerut and Aligarh has seen communal violence through the 1970s and early 1980s, it never spread to Muzaffarnagar and other adjoining districts. The politics of the region was dominated by the Jat-Muslim alliance (both a sizeable number in western UP) and Charan Singh led this alliance for a long time, until his son Ajit Singh allied with the BJP in 2001. Despite the fact that his party, Rashtriya Lok Dal, is a part of the UPA government at present, the Muslims have steadily been alienated both from the party and region over the last decade. Such a political scenario offers sufficient ground for religious fundamentalists. Over the last few years the Jats, who have traditionally voted for the Rashtirya Lok Dal, have been drifting towards the BJP. No other mechanism other than inciting a communal violence could have consolidated the Jats, a politically powerful landholding community, in favour of the BJP before the 2014 elections.
What happened before the riots substantiates this understanding. Following an altercation between a Muslim youth and two Jats on 27th August in Kawal village in Muzaffarnagar district, the riots spread to all quarters of western UP. The Jats are of the view that a Muslim boy had molested a Jat girl after which her brother and her uncle accidentally killed the Muslim boy. After this incident, a Muslim mob allegedly lynched the two and this led to a huge uproar among the Jats. The violence, according to the Sangh Parivar, was an angry response to the violence started by Muslims – a familiar hypothesis was presented by the Sangh Parivar for all communal riots that have happened over the last two decades, the most important being the Gujarat pogrom of 2002.
Mainstream media too tows this line despite the fact that Muslims of Kawal village deny this allegation. Most reports claimed that the alleged argument leading to the killing was over a trivial issue of motorbikes. The FIR in the case also notes this reason. The Dalits of the village hinted at this being a case of honour killing. Whatever be the case, it betrays commonsensical understanding that a small infighting, which is usual in many villages, could lead to such large scale communal violence.
It becomes necessary, therefore, to understand the political groundwork done by the Sangh Parivar in the region over the years. That the riots were manufactured is evident from the two-pronged political strategy of the Sangh Parivar. Firstly, the BJP’s campaigns, in the last few years, have specifically targeted rural areas of western UP, dominated by an agrarian population. Since the Jats own most of the cultivable land, they are powerful. A substantial Muslim and Dalit population work in their fields. The rest, being a few affluent Muslims and Sainis, focus on commercial enterprises.
The Muzaffarnagar riots were different in the sense that almost all violent incidents during the riots were triggered in rural areas and subsequently advanced to cities and nearby towns. In the history of riots in independent India, most riots have advanced from cities to villages. In western U.P, the BJP has institutionalised two aspects of its communal programme specifically targeting the notion of ‘honour’ amongst the rural Jats. One is what the Sangh Parivar calls “love jehad” while the other is its rumour mongering machinery. The Sangh Parivar campaigns claim that good-looking young Muslim men are identified and trained in madrassas to woo Hindu women. They are given mobile phones and motorbikes, which they use to pursue Hindu women. The Hindu women eventually fall for them as these men are also supposedly trained to be ‘polished and soft-spoken.’ Hindu nationalists also claim that if the women resist, these men would then indulge in rape, molestation or eve-teasing. The activists then back this theory with unsubstantiated and manufactured figures, photos and fake videos. The Jats view these alleged actions by Muslims as a serious affront to their ‘honour.’ Instances like a khap panchayat in western U.P. banning women from carrying mobile phones last year are repercussions of such communalisation.
This ‘save-your-honour’ propaganda is supported by a hyperactive rumour machinery whereby Hindus are fed the old Hindutva rhetoric stereotyping Muslims as cow slaughterers, reproductive machines who do not believe in family planning, criminals, and black marketers. Constantly, the Sangh Parivar instils fear among the Jats that an increasing Muslim population is a threat to the Hindu civilisational identity – an old Hindutva ideological trait.
In such a polarised environment, the second strategy of the Sangh Parivar is to project fights in villages as instances of communally-charged violence. Riots and other BJP protests in Shamli, Faizabad, Lucknow, Ghaziabad, and all over UP in the last two years started off as big or small fights between two individuals belonging to different communities. Events in the Muzaffarnagar riots also give this picture. BJP activists marched in Kawal at the funeral ceremony of the two Jats killed on 28th August. They came in droves on tractors and wreaked havoc in the Muslim colony of Kawal. They destroyed Muslim households and vandalised mosque property. They also raised anti-Muslim slogans and campaigned extensively against them – mostly slander and unsubstantiated propaganda presented as ‘the truth.’
Simultaneously, Sangh Parivar organised panchayat meetings of Jats, instigating them to act against Muslims who, according to them, target Hindu women and deliberately dishonour them. In the midst of all this, the BJP leadership also circulated a two-year-old Pakistani video of a Talibani mob lyching two people to death, claiming that the two people in the video were the Jats killed in Kawal.
According to many residents of Muzaffarnagar, BJP leaders went to all Hindu households to vitiate the atmosphere. Most visible leaders giving inflammatory speeches were Hindutva leaders Sadhvi Prachi and other BJP MLAs like Sangeet Som, Suresh Rana and MP Hukum Singh. These speeches are captured in different mobile videos. Many leaders from the Congress and the BSP also held meetings of Muslims. The religious leaders of Muslims also organised meetings to consolidate their base. On 7th September, the BJP leadership addressed the Jat Mahapanchayat that it named the Beti Bachao Bahu Bachao Mahasammelan. It was clear that the BJP had mobilised many of its cadre in the Mahapachayat and its agenda of creating a riot-like situation became popular naturally. Since the BJP had already been canvassing to communalise the Jats, they became agitated at this immediate trigger.
Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Ashok Singhal, in a press statement, reiterated this hypothesis while justifying the riot: “The stalking and felonious behaviour of the ‘love jehadis’ with a Hindu girl student returning from Kisaan Inter-College was the immediate provocation for the grave incidents that took place in Kawal on August 27. The root cause is the ‘lust jehad’ being conducted under the garb of Muslim religion. This incident gave birth to the convening of the Bahu, Beti Bachao Mahapanchayat. When society could no longer bear the ‘love jehadists’ outraging the modesty and dignity of Hindu women and girls in rural and urban areas of U.P., the corrective movement in the form of the Bahu, Beti Bachao Mahapanchayat came into being.”
Following the Mahapanchayat, the Jats and Muslims clashed at various places. But since Jats were in majority, Muslims fled their homes and took shelter in relief camps. The SP administration, sensing a good opportunity to consolidate Muslim votes, organised relief camps and came in support of Muslims instead of controlling the riots effectively.
Around 40,000 Muslims have already been displaced and most of them are agricultural labourers who worked in Jat fields. In the times of agrarian crisis, the relation between the landlord and the labourer were already strenuous which the BJP capitalised on. This has led to a huge demographic transformation of villages in western UP. Most of the villages, which had equal number of Muslims and Hindus have become Hindu-majority villages. The rioters have destroyed poor Muslim households to stop them from coming back. On the other hand, Muslims have been forced to ghettoise in relief camps and other villages where they form a majority.
In such a situation, even if the state government would have deployed troops against the Mahapanchayat, Hindutva activists would have been more than happy as it would have given them enough reason to unleash violence. In that case, the Sangh activists would have inflamed passions by saying that the state government is ‘pro-muslim’ and is trying to suppress only the Hindus. They have already named the SP government as ‘namazwadi sarkar.’ In both the circumstances, the Sangh activists were well prepared to create a riot-like situation. It was planned strategically over the last few years and the timing of the riots (pre-elections) has only helped the BJP. As for the SP who tried to consolidate the Muslim votes in its favour, it is bad news as most of the Muslims are agitated with the state government for such a high number of communal riots in UP ever since Akhilesh Yadav assumed power. More than 100 communal riots have already taken place in the last two years, especially after Amit Shah, a close aide of Narendra Modi, took over as BJP’s general secretary-in-charge of the state.
The Muzaffarnagar riots that continued unabated for a week exemplifies the theory of ‘institutionalised riot systems’ propounded by the political scientist Paul Brass who studied western UP riots in the 1970s and 80s. He says that Hindu-Muslim violence were produced to create a communal divide and were mostly supported by Congress governments (in 1980s), which used the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) to wreak havoc in the harmonious and pluralistic society of western UP. In the recent years, the BJP and the Sangh Parivar have adopted and honed similar mechanisms to create a communal divide across India and has coupled these strategies with simultaneous hate-mongering campaigns such as ‘love jehad.’ Muzaffarnagar riots demonstrate not only the majoritarian-communal nature of Hindutva politics but also entrenches the patriarchal and sexist vision of it, in which women have no control over socio-economic resources.
Also read- Muzaffarnagar:The Riot Route: Ajoy Ashirwad
(Writer is a Delhi based journalist and working with Frontline Magazine. This is text of his presentation made during a seminar organised by Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) on “Reportage of Sensitive Issues like Muzzaffarnagar Riots, Caste Conflicts and Sexual Assaults against Women”.)