It is somewhat surprising that while the BJP, at the national executive held in Allahabad, is talking about the ‘evil of communalism’, apart from ‘casteism and dynastic rule’, afflicting UP, one of the party MPs is stoking communal sentiments by alleging that about 350 Hindu families have left the town of Kairana, in Shamli district, after receiving extortion threats from a ‘Muslim ringleader’, who allegedly has the support of the ruling Samajwadi Party. BJP president Amit Shah has not improved matters by linking the ‘exodus’ issue to the upcoming polls in the state by asking the people to vote against the Samajwadi Party in order to arrest such developments, for which the party is sending a fact-finding committee to the place. Some other BJP functionaries holding ministerial positions have made similar insinuations. But investigation by a team of Hindustan Times correspondents has a different story to tell. If there is any grain of truth in what these people are alleging, it is that the local gangster who had earned notoriety in the area by killing two businessmen is a Muslim.
Unlike many other parts of the state where crime is of an individual nature, western Uttar Pradesh is reputed to have lots of criminal gangs operating. While these gangs are formed on the basis of caste or clan, as in the case of the Tyagi gang, individual loyalties are also a factor in moblising people to work for a leader, like in the Neetu gang. Mukhim Kala, whose activities have caused consternation in the BJP, by all accounts belonged to the second category. There are 13 police-registered gangs in Kairana. It has been reported that doctors and petrol pump owners have left the place owing to the fear of such gangs. This is one aspect of the story. Another is that there are no industries in Kairana. This causes people to migrate to places such as Panipat, as has been testified to by the district magistrate of Shamli. Even the wage rates in Kairana under the Mahatma Gandhi National Employment Generation Scheme are low compared to Panipat, which is another cause of migration.
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. And the economic interests of an extortionist can be only extortion. If the extortionist, Mukhim Kala in this case, sees that by pandering to people’s religious feelings he can make a quick gain, he would stop at nothing to achieve what he wants to do. But the broad fact remains that he’s nothing but an extortionist, whatever his religion may be. And, as simple law-and-order problems lead to explosive riots, the BJP must see the facts on the ground lest the high-mindedness it revealed in Allahabad get buried under the fire and brimstone coming from the likes of Sadhvi Prachi, who has asked for a Muslim-mukt Bharat.