In June 2011, American financial services firm Morgan Stanley placed Meerut fifth on the vibrancy index of India's top cities. The ranking, above Delhi and Mumbai, promised a future intense for the past-imperfect city.
Today, Meerut seems to have blown it all away.
Locked Shiv Mandir in Meerut. (HT Photo)
The religious divide in this city and the strife-torn district beyond, the largest in west UP, is palpable. The resultant ghettoisation belies Meerut's march toward globalisation, riding on a flourishing bullion market, sport goods and frozen meat industries.
The industrial growth indicated Meerut had left its worst--the Maliana-Hashimpura riots of 1987--behind. But the 2013 communal clashes in Muzaffarnagar nearby made it catch up with its polarised past.
The ghettos have consequently expanded and psychological barriers have come up in cosmopolitan areas of the city where Hindus and Muslims launched the Sepoy Mutiny, the first rebellion against British rule in 1857.
But the administration and locals believe segregated colonies are easier to control than 'sensitive' mixed population areas during communal flare-ups. "We are sitting on an active volcano," says veteran politician Om Prakash Sharma.
Once Meerut's showpiece multi-cultural locality, Shastri Nagar, barely has any Muslims left among 2.5 lakh Hindus today. Among those who left for good after the 1987 riots was noted Urdu poet Bashir Badr, whose house was reduced to ashes.
"We had communal riots then, we have political riots now," says Shastri Nagar resident MS Rana, adding that BJP has benefitted from the lawlessness under chief minister Akhilesh Yadav. "Some 40 posh colonies have come up in Meerut since 1987 but affluent Muslims have preferred to live in their ghettos."
The ghettoisation is most apparent along two parallel roads--Hapur where Muslims live and Garh where Hindus are concentrated. On Delhi Road is Abu ka Maqbara that one Bihari Lal built for his friend Abu Hasan.
This monument of communal harmony is lost on a generation fuelled by hatred. Among the few who can relate to it is Congress leader Pradeep Arora, whose family is one of four living in the Muslim-dominated Bhawani Nagar.
Dr Pradeep Arora, Congress leader and lecturer. (HT Photo)
"The entire locality comes to my protection whenever there is tension," he says, adding neighbours stopped qurbani (animal sacrifice) on the street after he objected.
Across the road is an ancient Shiva temple that remains locked for most part of the day. "The Shivaling was damaged during the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. Muslims of the area have taken care of this temple since," says priest Sanjeev Kumar Thakur.
Devotees invariably avoid the temple. For the six shops on the temple's land - leased out to Muslims - this translates into loss of clientele.
Not far away, Tewari Quarters has no Hindu home. "We don't want a Muslim name for our locality," says Zeeshan Khan, blaming discriminating builders for the spreading fault lines.
"As traders and exporters, we want peace," says BSP leader Shahid Akhlaq, a major exporter of frozen meat who feels BJP's campaign against cow slaughter will affect India's global business.
Ghetto-fixated Meerut is already feeling the pinch.