Parliamentary affairs minister M Venkaiah Naidu must be day-dreaming these days. Pardon us for accusing him of doing so but his actions/comments speak for themselves. On Wednesday, responding to the Opposition’s valid demand for a parliamentary debate on the rising number of communal clashes in the country, the minister flatly denied that there was any religious tension in the country and accused the Opposition of creating unnecessary hurdles in the House. Is Mr Naidu or his party colleagues unaware of what is happening next door in Uttar Pradesh? Starting from Muzaffarnagar in 2013, several UP districts have been scarred by riots, the latest being Meerut. The district has been on the boil for the last few days after news of an alleged forced conversion and rape of a 20-year-old woman in a religious institution spread. On Tuesday, the Centre demanded a “factual” report on the case from the state government.
But why is this hesitancy in debating about the riots in Parliament? Is it because that any debate on the such matters would again put the spotlight on the BJP, as was done by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi in 2013, when he held the party responsible for what happened in Muzaffarnagar? In fact, on Wednesday, Mr Gandhi was in an uncharacteristically aggressive mood in Parliament while attacking the NDA on its reluctance to debate the issue in the House. According to news reports, there have been more than 600 communal flare-ups of varying degrees in the state since May 16 — the day the general election results were announced. Unsurprisingly, most of them have happened in the 12 bypoll areas of UP. This cannot be a coincidence. These constituencies are important because the poll results will be seen as a measure of the popularity of an otherwise lacklustre Akhilesh Yadav government and the BJP’s inroads in the state after its spectacular results in the parliamentary elections. Naturally, the ruling Samajwadi Party is on full alert because it does not want to jeopardise its prospects in the bypolls and hamper its chances of a comeback in the assembly elections, though it is extremely unlikely.
While the SP has to take the blame for not proactively controlling the tense situation in the state — knowing fully well that riots have a cascading effect — one cannot but blame several other factors that make the state so restive: Economic and social stagnation and its intensely competitive politics that forces all parties to exploit every channel to ensure — and increase — their share in the political pie.