In Muzaffarnagar sugar bowl, riots sour poll pitch

Elections in a democracy are meant to reaffirm political and social equality, but not in Muzaffarnagar-2014. The blood spilt in last September’s riots may have congealed, but the distrust between Muslims and Jat-Dalits here continues unabated.

A majority of locals belonging to both communities admit that the Muzaffarnagar-Shamli riots, which claimed more than 60 lives and rendered over 50,000 homeless, have dealt a body blow to the harmony between them, a development that will impact the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections here.

In the riot-affected villages of Phugana, Lank and Loi, many panic-stricken families have withdrawn their children from schools in adjoining towns. Many students even skipped their board exams. “Parents are scared and unwilling to send their children long distances,” says Dr Garima Verma, the principal of a leading school in Budhana. “It just shows how deep is the people’s distrust in one another.”

But this was not always the case. Sample this: Gulam Mohammad of Jaula village was 45 when he joined Mahendra Singh Tikait in 1987 to form the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU). Tikait was Gulam’s mentor but heeded his advice in social and political matters.

After championing the cause of farmers and Hindu-Muslim unity for 27 years, Gulam recently parted ways with the BKU — now under the command of Naresh Tikait — and blamed it for failing to provide safety to innocent people during the riots.

A survey conducted by Naresh Tikait’s aides indicates that major issues like sugarcane dues, poor state of roads and erratic power supply have taken a backseat and the locals are more concerned about their safety.  “The inputs indicate that polarisation has occurred in both communities,” says Tikait, while BKU workers blame the incumbent state government for ignoring others and appeasing Muslims.

Gulam says he will now follow his heart. He voted for the Samajwadi Party in 2009 but, amid murmurs that Jats and Dalits may support BJP, he and his supporters are closely watching them before finalising their decision. “If Jats and Dalits support the BJP, there is no point in polarising in favour of BSP candidate Kadir Rana even if he is the only Muslim candidate,” say Akram, Mohd Yamin and Noor Mohammad of the Muslim-dominated Tawli village. Endorsing the view, Sazid Ali of Jaula village explains that the one-point agenda of Muslims will be to ensure the BJP’s defeat.

In Khatauli constituency, the Vaishyas are annoyed with Samajwadi Party for appeasing Muslims and ignoring the others. “We have always supported the SP’s Vaishya leader but, in the changed situation, the community is likely to support the saffron party,” says entrepreneur Bhavesh Gupta.

In a constituency of over 18 lakh voters, Muslims, Jats and Dalits play a vital role.

The BSP has fielded sitting MP Kadir Rana to take on BJP’s Dr Sudhir Baliyan and SP’s Virendra Singh. The RLD has left this seat for Congress, which has fielded Pankaj Agarwal.


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