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No state in India is free from its share of problems but the misfortune of Uttar Pradesh is that its travails have got compounded. Sectarian conflicts are nothing new to UP, particularly western UP. However, the incidents in Saharanpur since Saturday have taken place as part of a stream of disturbances that are communal in nature. Last year more than 60 people died in sectarian violence in Muzaffarnagar, and many more had to take shelter in unlivable makeshift shelters. The saving grace this time, when a plot of land was supposed to be the reason for dispute between two communities, has been that the administration has been quick to act and has been able to minimise the casualties. Having done so, the first and foremost job of the state government should be to ensure that the violence does not spread in the way it did last year.
The sad part of the story, however, has been the old one of the political leadership not showing sufficient wisdom and statesmanship. UP minister Azam Khan was quick to blame the RSS for fomenting trouble in the state. Chief minister Akhilesh Yadav too blamed the BJP for “vitiating the atmosphere” in the state by using loudspeakers. Such statements can only make worse a festering wound and widen the divides in an already polarised situation. One hopes the BJP does not come up with a ‘revenge’ formula in the way it did for the Muzaffarnagar riot-victims, in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, or ‘honour’ those accused of creating trouble. With Union home minister Rajnath Singh saying the situation is “under control”, hopefully there will be better coordination between the Centre and UP government.
Bipan Chandra in his outstanding work Communalism in Modern India had posited the view that communalism is the false belief that a person’s religious identity structures her or his economic interests. Those who took part in rioting in Saharanpur had definitely fallen prey to some such theory and had been victims of a sort of false consciousness. The riots began when members of a particular community had started construction on the disputed plot of land without approval from the authorities concerned even though they reportedly had a judicial verdict to back their claim. The worrying part is that despite the abundance of liberal education in the forms of literature, films and the arts, this false consciousness does not seem to dissipate. The solution can come from high economic growth and more jobs for the youth.