It has been nearly three months since the horror stories of rape surfaced from the 7-9 September communal riots in Muzaffarnagar, India’s deadliest in a decade, which left 59 dead and more than 50,000 homeless. Facts that have come to light recently raise doubts over both the ability and the intent of the governments in the state and at the Centre to ensure justice to the victims.
Even as reports of infant deaths in the ill-equipped relief camps due to the onset of winter come as a shock, until as late as 11 December, the investigating agencies were still trying to get the six women who were allegedly raped to record their statements before a magistrate. Not a single rape accused has been arrested so far.
In fact, at one of the relief camps in Jogiya Khera, the husband of a woman who claimed she was raped, says that doctors at the district hospital mocked the victim saying she was “too old and ugly” to be raped by Jat men. “We reported this to officials and the police, but we cannot expect them to take it seriously as they have shown little zeal even in probing the rape accusation,” he says.
How Not To Handle A Riot’s Aftermath
After failing to prevent and contain sectarian violence, the Samajwadi Party government in Uttar Pradesh is worsening the communal divide
On 28 September, a group of eight Muslims from Meerut district in west Uttar Pradesh specially flew in to Lucknow, the state capital. It included an Islamic cleric named Maulana Nazeer, who is wanted by the police for allegedly inciting sectarian killings last month in another western district, Muzaffarnagar. That violence, the state’s worst in more than two decades, left over 50 dead and thousands uprooted from their homes and villages.
As an FIR names Nazeer for inciting mobs behind some of those killings, he should have expected to be arrested. Yet, a fear of the police was farthest from his mind as he landed in Lucknow. After all, he had come to meet UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and his father, Mulayam Singh Yadav, who heads their Samajwadi Party (SP) that rules the state. Were father and son expecting the delegation? Even better. They had, in fact, invited it.
Such bizarre and sadly cynical politicking now characterises the government’s approach in handling the aftermath of the bloody violence. Making a bad situation worse, political considerations have snuffed out every chance for sound administrative action that is needed sorely to build long-term peace between the state’s Hindus and Muslims, who are badly polarised from the two-way murderous attacks that began on 7 September.
Behaving blatantly partisan, the government has arrested local Hindu leaders from the Opposition BJP for alleged rioting but refuses to book similarly accused local Muslim leaders, including two brothers, an MP and an MLA. Predictably, the BJP is having a field day. “The government slaps the National Security Act (NSA) against our leaders but treats the other accused as peace messengers,” says BJP state president Laxmikant Bajpai. “They are playing vote bank politics for Muslim votes and this is unacceptable.”
The government and the SP loudly protest the accusation, as the chief minister told Tehelka’s Shoma Chaudhury in an interview published last week (‘We’ve Made Mistakes. But There Are Two Things I Will Always Be: Secular And Socialist’). But the message has gone out unmistakably that the government is biased towards the Muslims and against the Hindus.
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Shoma Chaudhury in conversation with UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav
Frustration is a common mood in Indian public life. But when it follows a rare cycle of hope, it breeds a particular sort of desperation. In Lucknow, it’s hard to miss this dark mood. Talk at every home swirls around the terrible riots of Muzaffarnagar. Close on this, swirl views on Uttar Pradesh’s 40-year-old chief minister.
Back in March 2012, Akhilesh Yadav could do no wrong. His election campaign had been run pitch perfect. He seemed to embody the new order everyone was longing for: he was young; his speeches were soothing; inclusive; positive. His dream-selling was bang-on. In his latter years, the old war-horse, Mulayam Singh Yadav, had squandered a lot of political capital. Akhilesh, on the other hand, seemed a space-pod that could make Uttar Pradesh jump a century. The people voted him in with 224 out of 403 seats.
Eighteen months later, even his closest aides have become doubters. “I wish he would read Stephen Covey,” said one bureaucrat in his inner circle. “He needs a high dose of auto-suggestion. He should remind himself: I’m the chief minister; I’m the chief minister. I have been voted in with a massive mandate.” Another said dryly: “We need to add one line to the Samajwadi Party manifesto: The chief minister must work.”
Over the past few months, as a disconcerting number of communal riots have flared up in the state, apart from the dark mood, a sinister theory has begun to take root in Uttar Pradesh. There is a sense that, in the run-up to the 2014 General Election, the Samajwadi Party is deliberately allowing Hindutva forces to stoke communal fires because it keeps the Muslim minority in a state of fear and, by extension, in need of the Samajwadi Party’s protection. The communal and the secular, people say, have become two grimy sides of the same hand.
UP’s sectarian strife has focussed attention on the ruling party’s most controversial Muslim leader. Virendra Nath Bhatt sizes up Azam Khan
In or out of the Samajwadi Party, Azam Khan is never out of the news. Or controversy. This month, Uttar Pradesh’s most (in) famous Muslim politician hit the headlines one more time after allegations surfaced that he forced the district administration in Muzaffarnagar to let sectarian Hindu-Muslim violence rage three weeks ago. He is also accused of forcing the police to free seven Muslim men arrested for the murder of two Jats on 27 August, an act that fuelled anger among that community and escalated tensions, eventually causing the sectarian violence that has claimed nearly 50 lives.
“Khan is the face of communal politics in Uttar Pradesh,” says BJP leader Hridaya Narain Dikshit bluntly. “I cannot recall him ever raising the issues of poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and overall deprivation of the Muslims.” Adds journalist and former Rajya Sabha MP Shahid Siddiqui, who quit the SP last year: “Khan has an autocratic temperament because he feels insecure. For him, both the party and the Muslim community are secondary to his ego and his personal agenda is paramount.”
I have never claimed to be the Muslim face of the party, as I know that I cannot mobilise the votes of the minority community, says UP Parliamentary Affairs Minister Azam Khan. Edited Excerpts from an interview
It’s been more than four decades since you entered politics as a student leader in the Aligarh Muslim University. Today, you are seen as the sole spokesperson of the Samajwadi Party on minority issues. How has the journey been so far?
It has been a tumultuous journey. I have faced innumerable hardships in the past four decades. I am constantly under attack from all possible quarters. I have never claimed to be the Muslimface of the party, as I know that I cannot mobilise the votes of the minority community.
Your critics in the party allege that Mulayam Singh Yadav has been projecting you as the only Muslim leader in the party to strengthen the Yadav-Muslim social coalition.
You should ask Mulayam Singh Yadav why he gives me so much importance that people see me as the sole Muslim face of the party. Why are others jealous if Mulayam Singh pampers me? I am not hurt by those who are jealous of me. In the Assembly election last year, I was the one who won with the highest margin among all Samajwadi Party candidates. My relationship with Mulayam Singh goes back almost four decades. It is based on a solid foundation of mutual trust and confidence.
A looming election, cynical politics, dead bodies as ledger entries in a vote bank. There is no doubt that the UP government willfully caused the Muzaffarnagar riots Atul Chaurasia and Deevakar Anand report
Why did Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav take 20 days to reach Muzaffarnagardistrict 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 acrossMuzaffarnagar 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.
The Samajwadi Party has made a mockery of the bureaucracy in Uttar Pradesh.Virendra Nath Bhatt lists some glaring incidents
Violence erupted in Faizabad on 22 October after an idol of Goddess Durga was stolen from a local temple. Former BJP MLA Lallu Singh was blamed for arson and looting. Another BJP MLA, Ramchandra Yadav, was charged with giving a hate speech. The police have filed not one chargesheet in 70 firs. Deepak Agarwal (DM) and Ramit Sharma (SSP), who launched a hunt for illicit weapons, were shifted in two weeks.
Despite being convicted in November in a land allotment scam, IAS officer Rajiv Kumar was reinstated as Principal Secretary (Appointment and Personnel) after the high court stayed his conviction. (He had signed Durga Shakti Nagpal’s suspension order.) Two other IAS officers implicated too were brought in: Lucknow Commissioner Sanjeev Sharan and Social Welfare Commissioner Rakesh Bahadur.
IAS officer Himanshu Kumar was posted as divisional commissioner, Allahabad, in June but removed within 24 hours after he began a probe in illegal sand mining reportedly patronised by an SP MP. PUCL has challenged his removal at the high court.
And this voice has got louder after the Muzaffarnagar riots. Talking to Muslim leaders from various fields, Tehelka found that the community is fed up of being treated merely as a votebank and wants to feel included
‘I have never seen such a communal divide in UP’
Munawwar Rana Renowned Urdu Poet
Who do you hold responsible for the communal riots in Muzaffarnagar?
I have never seen such a communal divide anywhere in Uttar Pradesh (UP) in my entire life. I used to go to Meerut, Muzafarnagar and other towns of western UP to participating in mushairas, which were thronged by people of all communities. But this government, by its monumental inaction, has destroyed all. Had it acted as a government is required to act as per the law of the land, the tragedy could have been averted. I have no hesitation in saying that instead of bridging the communal divide caused by so many reasons, the rift was allowed to grow wider and wider. I will judge the ruling party by its conduct during such adverse situations.
Will this influence the Muslim votes in 2014?
The Samajwadi Party (SP) government has singularly failed in performing its most basic duty in Muzaffarnagar. The Muslims are angry and the SP will lose their support in any future election. If they voted for the SP in 2012, in 2014, they could turn to some other party. But, the BJP stands to gain by the polarisation caused by the riots.
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