Safety in riot-scarred West UP is in numbers. So is an alleged design to control land and power by tilting the demographic scales.
Symbolic of this new power struggle is Pallra, a village in Shahpur area of Muzaffarnagar whose population pattern has changed following large-scale migration of Hindus and Muslims to safer zones.
Pallra means weighing scales in Hindi.
“Some 1,000 Muslim families from (riot-hit) Bassikala 2 km away were settled in our village where the Hindu-Muslim ratio was 60:40 and not adjoining Pallri where the ratio is 40:60. The numerical change means the next chairman of Shahpur Nagar panchayat will be a Muslim,” says Rajiv Pratap Saini, a resident of Pallra.
Ditto, he adds, was the case of Balra village on Hardwar Road after Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind constructed houses for Muslim riot victims there. Saini’s association with BJP explains his claim. But Hindus in general sniff an agenda behind Muslim organisations and influential individuals ‘making’ Muslim migrants move to areas where they can impact the voters’ ratio and become a potent political force.
Consequently, the Hindu sentiment has buried caste clashes. Three dominant communities — Dalits, Sikhs and Jats — view Muslims as the common enemy following clashes in Kanth (Moradabad), Saharanpur and Muzaffarnagar in recent times.
The growing mistrust between Hindus and Muslims is pervasive. A Hindu migrant who moved from Muslim-dominated Mehmoodnagar, says: “There was a time when we celebrated festivals together. But things changed after our homes were attacked last year. I sold my house for a song and moved out after living there for 26 years. Two ‘Hindu lanes’ sandwiched between Muslim settlements in that village have virtually disappeared.”
Likewise, Muslims have been leaving Kakra village 20 km away. The mosque here is abandoned and Gayoor, the last of the Muslim inhabitants, is preparing to leave. “My Hindu neighbours are dissuading me but my family no longer feels safe here,” he says.
Those helping Muslims rehabilitate say the ‘demographic change’ theory is propaganda to undermine humanitarian efforts. “We have heard tales about the imbalance in Hindu-Muslim ratio caused by settling riot victims in areas such as Haampur where a Muslim has always been elected gram pradhan. These cannot be proved,” says Maulana Arshad Madni, a prominent cleric and leader of the Jamiat-Ulama-i-Hind.
Political scientists, however, sense the tussle for political power that intensified after none of the Muslim candidates won the 2014 Lok Sabha polls in UP. The scenario, they say, could change in places like Deoband where riot-affected Muslims are shifting to. Only once did a Muslim candidate win an assembly election there. “Migration of Muslims from urban areas began after the 1987 riots. (Peasant leader) Mahendra Singh Tikait tried to regain the confidence of Muslims but Arya Samaj threw a spanner while the Sangh Pariwar’s temple movement put up a barrier,” says Allahabad-based professor A Satyanarayana. According to him, prosperity of beef-exporting Muslims is at the root of West UP’s problem. They began purchasing land and participating in politics, unsettling Hindus.
The riots made many lose their lands. And gain fear, perhaps forever.