Once it took historic structures to stoke the communal fire in Uttar Pradesh. But no longer, a trivial argument, a loudspeaker, a YouTube post — just about anything makes political parties experiment with India’s most populous state.
Birds fly at sunset over a Hindu temple on the 20th anniversary of the Babri mosque demolition in Ayodhya. AP Photo
UP reeled under communal riots before and after the Babri mosque was demolished in 1992. Partisan politics of both the Samajwadi Party and the BJP — which ruled the state from December 1989 to 1997 — revolved around the Ayodhya temple issue.
“The BJP and the SP have always gained from each other’s strength. While Mulayam Singh Yadav’s rhetoric in favour of a community is alienating others from his government, the BJP is ballooning even trivial cases involving Muslims to their advantage,” Meerut-based social activist Ainuddin Shah said.
The reason is simple: The communal agenda has paid dividends.
The BJP grew from 57 to 174 assembly seats and from eight to 52 Lok Sabha seats in elections between1989 and 1996. The 1992-born SP formed its first government, in alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party, in 1993 by winning 109 assembly seats. It grew marginally in the 1996 assembly elections, but won 16 LS seats.
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The two parties are back in power — the SP in Lucknow under Akhilesh Yadav and the BJP in Delhi with veteran Narendra Modi in charge — and the state sits on a communal tinderbox again.
In February, former Union minister of state for home, RPN Singh told the Rajya Sabha that UP topped the list of communal riots in 2013, the year when the state was gearing up for the Lok Sabha polls. It supported the theory that communal tension in UP heightens when polls draw near.
The 2017 assembly polls are way off, but by-polls to one LS seat (Mainpuri, vacated by SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav) and 12 assembly seats are due in October.
The saffron brigade’s Hindutva agenda appears to be on overdrive. Adding fuel to the fire are posters and statements by clerics, as also reactions of minorities on developments across the Muslim world.
This is hurting chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, whose image as an administrator has suffered immensely, while his party carries the pro-minority label.
“Somehow, the lumpen elements from the Muslim community get emboldened during the SP’s rule,” Shah said.
The unrest, however, doesn’t suit Prime Minister Modi, who wants to raise his global stature. For one, he represents UP in Parliament.
Secondly, the people scarred by two decades of communal and caste politics, voted for his development mantra.
A retired police officer said the polarisation process that began before the 2014 polls will be kept simmering till the BJP wins in 2017.
Read: Saharanpur facing 'caste clashes', wrong to define them as 'communal riots': Akhilesh
He gave three reasons why communal tension prevails in UP — the government’s overdependence on officers of a particular caste at grassroots levels, failure in involving other political parties to maintain harmony and empowering culprits of one community because of its appeasement policy.
According to Public Union for Civil Liberty’s SR Darapuri, a retired IPS officer, the SP government has an eye on its vote-bank while taking decisions on sensitive issues.
Others criticised its inability to check rioters and prevent recurrence of communal clashes.
The test for the SP — pressure on the Centre to axe the Akhilesh government is mounting — could well be the forthcoming by-polls. With the BSP on a ‘sabbatical’ and the Congress in disarray, its battle will be with the BJP — the party on the other end of the communal divide.