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"Desh, bahu aur gai ko bachana hai toh Narendra Modi ko lana hai (Bring Narendra Modi to save the country, women and cows)" – this was saffron slogan that stoked the Muzaffarnagar fire, causing the deaths of 37 people since last week.
Summing up in one breath all that a man holds dear – land, cow and women – the line added to the earlier VHP bogey of "love jihad", an alleged plot by Muslim youths to woo and convert Hindu girls to Islam. And given that the riots apparently started with the molestation of a Jat girl by a Muslim man, it made the volatile communal cauldron of western Uttar Pradesh explode.
The idea was not new. Sangh outfits have used it to good effect in Mangalore and Kerala, pushing even Kerala's Christian organisations to pick it up.
"When the society could no longer bear the love jihadists, the corrective movement in the form of Bahu Beti Bachao mahapanchayat came into being," said VHP chief Ashok Singhal.
What he was referring to was a version of the slogan - "Bahu Beti Izzat Bachao" - coined at the Jat Mahapanchayat of September 7. Cases of molestation had been on the rise in the run-up to the clash, said locals. And the bloodshed began soon after the mahapanchayat ended.
The alleged molestation case, though, was the proverbial last straw. Rumors of cow slaughter, fuelled by the Sangh Parivar, had already frayed tempers.
"Incidents of cow slaughter and reports of police inaction or biased action led to a situation where people were feeling agitated," said Meerut-based RTI activist Sandeep Pahal.
But independent data to substantiate molestation and cow slaughter stories are hard to come by, usually because the police rarely register these cases, said a local journalist.
Whatever the method, it yielded the desired result. "It's a clear Hindu versus Muslim issue now. The damage to the social fabric is irreparable," said an aide of Qadir Rana, BSP parliamentarian from Muzaffarnagar.