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Home / Books / Review: Everyday Communalism: Riots in Contemporary Uttar Pradesh by Sudha Pai and Sajjan Kumar

Review: Everyday Communalism: Riots in Contemporary Uttar Pradesh by Sudha Pai and Sajjan Kumar

An insightful new book explains why and how communalism has become widespread in Uttar Pradesh

books Updated: Jun 29, 2018 19:03 IST
Shaikh Mujibur Rehman
Shaikh Mujibur Rehman
Hindustan Times
Police patrolling Aligarh town in Uttar Pradesh on 07 June, 1972, after curfew was imposed due to communal riots.
Police patrolling Aligarh town in Uttar Pradesh on 07 June, 1972, after curfew was imposed due to communal riots.(KK Chawla/HT Photo)

348pp, Rs 995, Oxford University Press
348pp, Rs 995, Oxford University Press

While communalism and the frequency of communal riots have grown, research on the subject seems to have lost its appeal. Hence, it is thrilling to see a book on the subject; particularly one that is empirically rooted and cannot be dismissed as ivory-tower scholarship. It is high time we recognize that communalism in India was not entirely a colonial gift, and that there are conscious and deliberate ways in which prejudices among Hindus and Muslims are allowed to exist and grow.

The central objective of this book is to explain why and how communalism has become widespread in Uttar Pradesh as reflected in frequent riots during the 2000s. Based on extensive field work in east and west UP, the authors explain why riots are no longer episodic, why communal harmony between Hindus and Muslims has become so elusive and the antagonism so violent, and how the social fabric and agrarian nature of the political economy have become vulnerable to the sustained assault of the Hindu Right’s long term ideological agenda that found theoretical justification during the 1930s. While doing this, the authors pay modest tribute to the accomplishments of Nehruvian leadership, the legacy of India’s anti- colonial national movement, acknowledge the role of the two caste based parties, the Bahujan Samaj Party(BSP) and the Samajwadi Party(SP) in restraining the consolidation of the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) that reaped unprecedented electoral benefits from the Ram-Janambhoomi movement during the 1980s and 1990s, creating the political context that furthered the Hindtuva political project.

Outside the messy world of India’s electoral politics, the authors attempt to make us aware of the systematic communal campaign, the day-to-day narrative of demonization of Muslims by organizations of the Hindu Right in the creation of “institutionalized everyday communalism”. Pai and Kumar believe this is guided by the ambition to expand and consolidate the Hindu electoral base to build an enduring majoritarian regime with a scary agenda. The Hindu Right organizations, they argue, have attempted to create and sustain constant, low-key communal tension together with frequent, small, low-intensity incidents out of petty everyday issues that institutionalize communalism at the grass roots and keep the pot boiling. Put bluntly, there is an effort to make Indian society a blood thirsty one.

The first chapter presents the historiography of communal politics in Uttar Pradesh from the early post-Independence era until the 1990s and investigates the shifting nature of Muslim politics, and its implications for the rise of the Hindutva. It presents insights on the political economy of the Ferozabad riots in 1972, and of riots during Janata rule, and builds on to the emergence of the Ram- Janambhoomi movement and the political mobilization that followed. Empirically, the book focuses on two regions: eastern and western Uttar Pradesh. In the chapter on eastern Uttar Pradesh, it analyses caste among Muslims by focusing on pasmanda politics, explains the shifting nature of traditional Muslim politics, and devotes attention to the history of Hindu riots in Eastern Uttar Pradesh. It sheds light on the Mau and Gorakhpur riots, explains the rise of Yogi Adityanath and the role of the Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV), and analyses intra-Hindutva rivalry.

Authors Sudha Pai and Sajjan Kumar
Authors Sudha Pai and Sajjan Kumar ( Courtesy OUP )

The next part presents the story of the troubled political economy of western Uttar Pradesh, and explains the relationship between the agrarian crisis and the rise of everyday communalism. It attempts to do this by analyzing the Muslim-Jat relationship, the role of the Bhartiya Kishan Union(BKU), and explains how agrarian decline has reshaped Jat-Muslim relations. The authors recognize that communalization in western Uttar Pradesh took place over a period of time, and that it would not be fair to look at it purely as an election-centric activity. The book devotes a complete chapter to the analysis of the Muzaffarnagar and Shamli riots of 2013, which many argue propelled the necessary polarization that led to the Modi wave of the 2014 elections.

At the height of Mandal politics, the rise of caste-based parties was seen as a political trend that was deepening democracy. The key theoretical question is why and how has this process of deepening democracy moved towards the deepening of communalization? It calls for a thorough scrutiny of the changing dynamics of dalit politics, Muslim politics, Yadav politics and upper caste politics in the larger context of the discourse on affirmative action and globalization. Crucially, the Hindu Right has been able to meander through this maze to shape the electoral machine in its favour. Will this remain a long-term strategy or will it lapse after a while?

Read more: Communalism gains new ground in rural India

If the idea of everyday communalism is driven by ideological goals, the uncertain nature of electoral outcomes would have no implication on its future as ideologies exist regardless of electoral results. It would be naïve to expect a lull in between. What this research clearly establishes is that everyday communalism thrives on present-day electoral politics. It also establishes that a more effective and sophisticated strategy needs to be formulated to discourage new generations of Indians from being attracted to communal campaigns. New concepts and political slogans are needed to counter these forces. It is important for scholars to come up with ways to repackage the greater values of humanism, and to promote the notion of inclusive nationalism that could restrain the sustained rise of majoritarian tendencies in Indian society. This book presents material that helps the reader make sense of one of the most pernicious political trends to dominate the politics of South Asia in the 20th century. It would be a pity if the poison that vitiated the previous century continued to flow in this one. Those who care for peace and democracy will find this book helpful in making sense of the challenges facing contemporary India.

Shaikh Mujibur Rehman has edited Communalism in Post Colonial India (Routledge, 2018).

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