Why did Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav take 20 days to reach Muzaffarnagar district since the first killings began? The last week has provided an answer to this question. Had he gone immediately after the 27 August lynching deaths of a Muslim and two male Jat cousins who had killed him earlier that day, the toll would have stayed at three. But Akhilesh’s delayed arrival ensured it shot up to around 50 as rioting spread across Muzaffarnagar and even neighbouring districts over the next 20 days.
And that was the plan. Extended conversations with politicians and government and police officials in Muzaffarnagar and Lucknow, the state capital, clearly establish that the UP government, under pressure from the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP), choked the district administration from acting against the violence between Jats and Muslims.
As TEHELKA reported last week, the administration had behaved in a partisan manner towards the Muslims by refusing to investigate the killings of the Jat cousins. In fact, the police actually let off the 12 Muslim men it suspected in the cousins’ lynching after arresting them, angering the Jats. In conversations with TEHELKA, several officials admitted that pressure from higher-ups forced them to abandon that investigation.
A sub-inspector speaking on condition of anonymity said the Muslim men had been arrested exactly at the spot where the Jat cousins had been killed. Another police officer, from another district drafted to work a Muslim-heavy part of Kawal, backed this assertion. “In my two weeks here, all villagers, including eyewitnesses of the 27 August killings, vouched that there was no sectarian flare in them,” he told TEHELKA. “The police would have easily handled the situation had there been no political interference.”
Also last week, police officers caught in an undercover spy camera exposé by Headlines Today fingered none other than a UP minister Azam Khan, the SP’s Muslim poster boy.
The state government’s and its district administration’s response can be summed up as four blunders that worsened the situation.
Blunder 1: Transfers
After the three killings in Kawal village on 27 August, Muzaffarnagar District Magistrate (DM) Surendra Singh ordered house searches. Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Manjil Saini had some Muslim men arrested who were reportedly in the mob that hours earlier killed the Jat cousins, Gaurav and Sachin. But by midnight, both the DM and SSP were transferred after local SP leaders convinced their Lucknow satraps that the arrests would antagonise Muslims and hurt it in the Lok Sabha elections due in May. BJP legislator Hukum Singh, who is blamed for speaking provocatively at the 7 September Jat mahapanchayat, said, “To appease a particular community, they were transferred by the government because they carried out their duty.”
Blunder 2: Polarisation
Worse was the decision to book Gaurav’s father and others for the murder of Shahnawaz, the Muslim who Gaurav and Sachin had allegedly killed. This added insult to injury for the Jats. Farmer leader Rakesh Tikait told TEHELKA that the CM Yadav was wrongly led to believe that administration was favouring the Jats and this could have adverse impact on the Muslim electorate. “The CM was misled to transfer the SSP and DM,” he says.
“Our boys were the ones murdered, yet the police lodged a case against us,” says Dharmendra Malik, a Kawal resident. The Jats believe those charged are innocent. Ram Singh, a Hindu neighbour of Shahnawaz, said he saw only Gaurav and Sachin beating Shahnawaz. The stupid moves of the administration eventually also angered the Muslims, who saw that the bumbles fuelled the violence and gave it a Hindu-Muslim colour. “We’re being persecuted,” says Mehtab Alam, a local leader from Kawal. “Our people have been displaced yet the government has done nothing for us.”
Blunder 3: Partisan
The next day, 28 August, exposed the administration’s blatant Muslim bias. UP Additional-Director General of Police (ADG) Arun Kumar came visiting. But he only called on the family of Shanawaz and did not go to Mallikpura, the neighbouring village of the Jat cousins. (District officials claimed that the new DM and SP did go there.) Jats say the administration’s bias towards the Muslims forced them to call huge community meetings, on 31 August and then on 7 September, when the violence escalated.
Blunder 4: Complicity
On 30 August, local Muslim leaders addressed some 15,000 devout after Friday prayers in Muzaffarnagar city. SP leader Rashid Siddiqui, Congress leader and ex-MP Saeed-uz-Zaman and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) MP Kadir Rana, among others, gave blatantly sectarian speeches. Shockingly, the new DM and SP sat on the dais with them and even took a memorandum from them. Simultaneously, the administration pressured Jat leaders Rakesh Tikait to call off the Jat Mahapanchayat of the next day. According to a senior official, Rakesh cancelled the meeting after talking with the CM. This triggered such anger that some 50,000 Jats gathered at Nagla Mandaura village the next day.
By now, the BJP had a fishing line in, too. State legislator Sangeet Singh Som is suspected of planting what turned out to be a two-year-old Pakistani video of a mob thrashing two men mercilessly. The video turned viral among the Jats. They were told, incorrectly, that it showed the killing of Gaurav and Sachin.
When news spread that Tikait had called off the 31 August meet, the biggest Khap of the region, Gathwala, declared it a matter of Jat honour and called a panchayat in the neighbouring Shamli district on 4 September. There, Gathwala Khap chief Baba Hari Kishan appealed for the success of the 7 September meet. Tikait had no option now.
Politics and a call to the community pride ensured that the 7 September Mahapanchayat was a huge success. Despite the fact that Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, that prohibits a gathering of more than 10 people, had been in force since 28 August, both Muslims and Jats continued to hold meetings. As a result, on 7 September, Jats from other districts of Uttar Pradesh as well as neighbouring Haryana, Delhi and Rajasthan gathered in Nagla Madaura. Local say participants raised anti- Muslim slogans on the way, and also shouted “Jai Shri Ram”.
Rumours reached Muslim villages that the crowd returning from the Mahapanchayat was attacking Muslims. Retaliatory attacks happened at Bassi Kalaan, Jauli Kalan and Pur Baliyan villages, in which several Jats were killed. The administration had by now been exposed as having no control. As a result, around 20,000 people fled their homes in fear.
Mutual trust between the communities is gone. “The father, son and nephew stabbed my son to death,” says Shanawaz’s father, Saleem. “The police should arrest them.” One of the 2,500 refugees from Kutba village now staying at a madrasa, Irfan doesn’t want to return to the Jat villages. “We want compensation and rehabilitation in cities.”
Ironically, even the BJP-led movement of the late 1980s to build a Ram temple at a disputed mosque’s site in Ayodhya town in UP had failed to make the Jats sectarian Hindus. “Jai Shri Ram” had never earlier been heard at a Jat meeting. Jat leader Mahendra Singh had always kept his farmer’s movement clear of sectarianism. But today, the BJP appears to be in full control of the community. On the other side, the SP is hoping that the violence will make Muslim Jats in western UP fall in his arms.
A city activist says the administration failed to send out a clear signal that it was strictly nonpartisan. “The transfers of the DM and the SSP and the presence of their replacements at the Muslim meeting helped the sectarians on both sides,” he says.