Early in 2013, in the middle of a conversation about national politics and the possible rise of Narendra Modi, a top Lucknow businessman said, “People say Modi’s rise will make Muslims insecure. But what about the fact that under the SP in UP, we Hindus are insecure?”
This seemed to be an exaggeration. Why should a rich, Hindu upper-caste man — living in the safe confines of the state capital — feel insecure?
But this narrative, which had begun soon after the Samajwadi Party’s return to power in 2012, spread far and wide across the state.
Be it strife-torn towns like Muzaffarnagar or Saharanpur in western UP, or cities like Varanasi or Allahabad known for their composite culture in eastern UP, the most commonly heard refrain was: “It’s an all-Muslim raj. The government is only for them, and not for us.”
The BJP — through the Sangh Parivar machinery — carefully and systematically utilised this for political mobilisation. Statements — inflammatory even by UP standards — by SP leaders like Azam Khan gave them further ammunition.
The increase in the number of communal riots was attributed to the state government turning a blind eye to minority actions.
Even sections of Yadavs —the SP’s loyal vote-bank – were gradually made to believe that their party was pandering only to one element of its support base. Even Dalits, who have usually stayed away from Hindutva politics in UP and remained loyal to Mayawati, slowly changed their stance.
A Dalit villager, Rakesh Singh of Kumhariya village in Moradabad — which recently witnessed tensions between the two communities — told HT earlier this month: “Only Muslims are in power in UP.”
But there is a startling paradox.
Despite this perception, Muslims did not and do not quite feel secure — a key priority for the minority community in any part of the country — or empowered in the state. The SP may provide patronage to certain extreme elements of the Muslim society, but the ordinary Muslim continues to feel alienated.
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Shandar Gufran, a political activist who also runs a school in Muzaffarnagar, told HT: “All the top district officials are upper-caste Hindus. Eighty per cent of the policemen are Jats in this belt. And we are in conflict with them. The SP government has even scrapped a scheme for minority scholarships. How can you say we are enjoying state power?”
As proof, Muslims cite the increase in the number of riots, arguing it is usually the minorities who lose out more whenever such violent incidents take place.
The day curfew was lifted in Muzaffarnagar in September 2011, an elderly man, sitting next to a mosque, looked around at the security bandobast and said, “If it is all for Muslims, why is it that thousands of people from our community have got displaced? Why have more Muslims died? Where is the Sarkar?”
This political and psychological divide is at the heart of communal troubles in UP — each incident fits nicely into this grand narrative. And it does not help that despite its tenure being marked by lawlessness, the SP does not display either the political will or the administrative strength to quell crime.
UP is on the edge because the majority has a minority complex, the minority continues to feel victimised and political forces are ever ready to deepen — rather than heal — these wounds. But the state — which should have the authority to allay fears —stands discredited.
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