Muzzafarnagar Riots: Indifferent government, cynical politics

The title of a story carried by a Hindi newspaper on 9 September was tampered with and it was displayed on the social sites in such a provocative manner that members of one community began thirsting for the blood of the other. Then began the string of panchayats and mahapanchayats organized by ‘all-party fanatics’. Everyone was keen to harvest a rich crop of votes post-riots

In India, the genesis of communal riots lies in unprincipled politics. Common men may have quarrels and disputes but a riot is born only when some vested interests, with business or political ends to serve, encash the internal differences between persons or groups of persons and give them a communal-violent colour. On occasions, when differences are non-existent, they are manufactured just to incite a riot. This is the gist of the objective studies of riots in North India and of the sociological analyses of their backgrounds. This is true of both pre- and post-Independence riots. Some recent ones like the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 in Delhi and other areas and the anti-Muslim riots in 2002 in Gujarat also prove the point. And the same is true of the recent Muzzafarnagar-Shamli communal violence.

Though the immediate provocation for the Muzzafarpur-Shamli riots may have been the incidents in the last week of August and first week of September but the fact is that sustained efforts were being made to stoke the fire of communal hatred in the area for the last six months. The ‘Parivars’, the ‘Sadhvis’ and   the political dons were active. A senior VHP leader had issued a press statement encapsulating his insane ravings about the so-called ‘Love Jehad’. Why the statement was published with great relish by some local newspapers, only their decision-makers can tell. In other communities too, the vested interests were busy playing their own political games. The objective was to change the political power equations of the area and bring about a specific socio-casteist polarization.

The government of Uttar Pradesh failed to deal firmly with the communal elements in the initial stage itself. It did not issue necessary instructions to the local administration. For the last several years, the bureaucracy in Uttar Pradesh has got so used to living under the constant shadow of fear of its political masters and is so busy fulfilling its own narrow interests that it has lost the capacity to take independent initiative as per the law to maintain law and order in society. A central remote was needed to activate it – a remote control which would have controlled and directed it from Lucknow. But the neo-elites of Lucknow, intoxicated with power, hardly had time for such petty concerns as maintaining law and order.

Several incidents of serious communal violence have been reported from various parts of the state since the new government assumed power in the state. The latest statistics released by the National Crime Records Bureau show the law and order situation in the state after the Akhilesh government’s anointment in a poor light. The number of instances of communal tension and mild violence are in thousands. According to government’s own figures, of the riots at 106 sensitive locations, more than 30 have been classified as serious. Efforts are being made to whip up communal tension in Bahraich, Mau, Gorakhpur, Varanasi and Lucknow, among others.

The Muzzafarpur riots could have been averted if the mischief-makers were taken into preventive custody and panchayats-mahapanchayats which worked up communal and casteiest frenzy had been banned. These massive congregations were allowed despite prohibitory orders under section 144 being in force. Had the administration been alert and if the police investigations were free and fair, the so-called communal incident at Kawaal could have been contained there itself. After that incident, the rabid members of a particular organization misused the social media to the hilt. The title of a story carried by a Hindi newspaper on 9 September was tampered with and it was displayed on the social sites in such a provocative manner that members of one community began thirsting for the blood of the other. Then began the string of panchayats and mahapanchayats organized by ‘all-party fanatics’. Everyone was keen to harvest a rich crop of votes post-riots.

All police stations have a list of criminals and trouble-makers (including those specializing in whipping up communal tension) residing in their area of jurisdiction. In Muzzafarnagar, written complaints were made naming certain politicians. But they were not taken into custody in time. Who is responsible for this lapse? Many of them were seen defending their acts of omission and commission sitting in studios of TV news channels at Noida and New Delhi.

To build a truly democratic and secular society and government, we need to go beyond slogans and words. The administration should be fair and transparent in its working and people should be educated and made aware. The working of the local civic institutions should be regularly monitored. The problem, however, is that for most of our politicians, democracy is merely a game of numbers. It is clear that neither democracy nor secularism can be strengthened unless a proper strategy is put in place and those implementing it have honest and pure intentions.

Published in the October 2013 issue of the Forward Press magazine


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