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In Kairana, memories of 2013 communal tension divide constituency

Western UP has a substantial Muslim population, which coexists with the dominant Jat community in the region. Muzaffarnagar in 2013 changed the political landscape of west Uttar Pradesh.

india Updated: May 27, 2018 07:47 IST
Prashant Jha
Prashant Jha
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
A file photo of a burnt house at Mohammadpur Raisingh village, in Muzaffarnagar.
A file photo of a burnt house at Mohammadpur Raisingh village, in Muzaffarnagar. (HT Photo)

On Monday, Kairana votes. The by-election in this western Uttar Pradesh constituency was triggered by the death of Hukum Singh, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP. Kairana is a significant election, because if on the one hand, Singh’s daughter is contesting on the BJP ticket, on the other, the entire opposition has come together to support the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) candidate.

Here is the twist. RLD is a Jat-dominated party. The candidate is a Muslim. The election is happening in the same region which witnessed deep Jat-Muslim violence and tensions.

HT reconstructs what happened back in 2013 and since.

Context

Uttar Pradesh had been fragile in terms of inter-community relations since the Samajwadi Party came to power in 2012. Localised Hindu-Muslim tensions had erupted in several places.

The SP alleged this was a result of the belligerence of Sangh-affiliated Hindutva groups and the BJP; the BJP alleged this was a result of the SP government giving a free run to members of the Muslim community. Western UP was particularly sensitive because of its demographics.

It has a substantial Muslim population, which coexists with the dominant Jat community in the region.

Chaudhary Charan Singh was a pioneer in cementing the unity between Jats and Muslims on the basis of class and a common peasant background. But this unity had got increasingly fragile with inter-community tensions. This blew up in 2013.

What happened

In August-September 2013, Hindu-Muslim tensions built up in the western UP district of Muzaffarnagar.

There remain competing versions of the trigger.

Hindutva groups had been alleging that the region was witness to increasing ‘love jihad’ — a phrase coined to describe instances of Muslim men ostensibly ‘luring’ Hindu women in order to convert and marry them.

They, and the Jat residents, claimed that a Muslim man had harassed a Hindu girl in a Muzaffarnagar village; two Hindu men had retaliated and killed the man; in turn, a Muslim mob had killed the Hindu men; and because of its ‘policy of appeasement’, the SP government, and particularly its minister Azam Khan, ordered that the accused be treated leniently.

This generated anger and a backlash among the Jat community in particular who organised Mahapanchayats and violence broke out.

This version is severely contested by all the non-BJP parties, civil society groups, and Muslim residents.

They claimed that there had been a minor altercation between the young men which led to violence; that with lies, fabricated videos (BJP MP Sangeet Som was later accused of spreading false videos), and propaganda, Hindutva groups converted this into a Hindu-Muslim issue; that the violence was substantially directed against Muslims as shown by both killings and large scale displacement of the community running into thousands; that this was done with the purely political motive of polarising communities in the run up to elections.

Significance

Muzaffarnagar in 2013 changed the political landscape of west Uttar Pradesh.

For one, it had a direct electoral implication. Hindus across castes, including Jats, consolidated in favour of the BJP in the 2014 polls.

BJP’s campaign plank openly proclaimed the need to extract revenge and seek honour. The party swept the region, and eventually the state. The divide continued to play a part even in the 2017 polls. Even though reports indicated that Jats were now disenchanted with the BJP, they stuck to the party.

There was also a direct impact on inter-community ties. West UP became the site of constant communal tension on a range of issues triggering communal tension.

It is in this backdrop of deep communal divide that the Kairana election is being fought on Monday.

Will the Hindu-Muslim, in particular the Jat-Muslim, divide persist?

Or will a consolidated opposition be able to change the terms of the political discourse in the region?