Religion and caste – it seems — chase each other in a tight circle in Uttar Pradesh.
It’s the Samajwadi Party’s pro-minority politics versus the Bharatiya Janata Party’s pro-Hindutva politics versus the Bahujan Samaj Party’s caste politics.
And, with the rise of the Samajwadi Party again, whose patriarch is called Maulana Mulayam fondly and sarcastically — not always in this order — it’s the turn of religious bigotry now to vitiate the state. Caste has taken a backseat.
Following the advent of Narendra Modi as the BJP’s chief campaigner and the frequent visits of his aide Amit Shah to the state — since it has 80 Lok Sabha seats — it’s no surprise that UP seems to have been neatly packed in a tinderbox.
Sociologist Prof Rajesh Mishra of Lucknow University says the common perception is that whenever the SP is in power, it protects and pampers a particular community. And the BJP takes advantage of the situation and ignites the communal feelings.
Plus, the SP’s rule is always associated with poor governance. Former Uttar Pradesh police chief Prakash Singh cites the suspension of Noida SDM Durga Shakti Nagpal as a case in point.
He says although the wall of a reportedly religious structure — being built on government land — was demolished by the villagers themselves, Nagpal was suspended. Official reason: It could have led to communal riots.
But reports indicate that communal sensitivities were used to shield the sand mafia operating along the river banks. Poor governance? Or local power centres calling the shots as the central authority is seen as weak?
The government, however, has its own explanation. CM Akhilesh Singh Yadav said on Wednesday: “How could the officers demolish the wall during Ramzan? The officers have equal responsibility in maintaining harmony in the state.”
The administration thinks that the villagers had no option but to demolish the wall in the presence of a force. The political message, however, is that Mulayam saved another mosque.
But the macro-picture is more alarming. The last time the state witnessed such unbearably high communal heat was in the early 1990s over the Rama Janmabhumi issue. It spread fast to the rest of the country and changed the face of Indian politics for a long time to come.
This time, political observers allege that the saffron party has decided to stage small riots for a sharper polarization at the grassroots level. And helping them is the overt desperation of the SP government to keep the Muslims in good humour.
Of late, new slogans are being aired in western UP and the Muslim-dominated districts in the eastern parts: “Na perh katenge, na gaye kategi (neither trees will be cut nor will cows be slaughtered).”
The issue of cow slaughter has come back as a political tool. BJP MP Rajeev Agarwal says, “The cases of cow slaughter and smuggling have gone up tremendously in western UP in recent times. But the government has remained a silent spectator for obvious reasons.”
BJP spokesperson Chandra Mohan, an old RSS hand, says, “Cow slaughter is a major issue in the rural areas and ‘love jihad’ (Muslims enticing Hindu girls) is in the urban areas.” He, however, admits that the protests have become louder now, as Amit Shah has instructed them to be more vocal.