RIOTS WERE NOT ACCIDENTAL

Sanjay Kapoor

Months after they fled their homes because of the communal flare-up, many of the displaced victims of the Muzaffarnagar riots returned to their villages to cast their votes. With transport being taken care of by the administration, the refugees told the waiting crew of journalists —who wanted to know how it felt to be returning to their old homes — that they cast their votes and immediately returned to the camps.

They did emphasize the tension they felt upon entering the village, with their former neighbours, who had violently driven them from their homes, looking on with suspicion. Although polling is over, the wounds caused by the riots — supposedly orchestrated to re-order the politics of western UP — are unlikely to heal any time soon. In fact, they could worsen when the full implications of the politically motivated riots begin to sink in.

If the riots were indeed triggered by those who wanted to benefit from communal polarization, one can only shudder at the prospect of those same perpetrators coming to power.

The Muslims of western UP, who had prospered due to their social alliance with the Jats all these years, have become a vulnerable lot. They have been robbed of the chance to choose a candidate for Parliament. Their efforts to stop communal violence in the past, by forging coalitions with caste groups like Dalits, Brahmins or the OBC, seemed to collapse against the tide of violent Hindu nationalism. Polarization has threatened to make their votes irrelevant.

Violence creates its own grammar, ordered and reordered by memories of a barbaric past. It’s possible to journey through the collective consciousness of the people of this region.

At a petrol pump, a young man was recounting the tales of horror: “I was in my village when I heard about the riots. I came quickly to the village, behind the pump, where people were killing each other. It was all so gruesome, with people being cut up in an ara machine.” He added that the events had spurred the community to stick together and vote together to protect their interests.

The brazenness of political sanction of violence only surfaced recently, when BJP leader Amit Shah instigated the majority community to use their vote to exact revenge. The Election Commission reluctantly showed Shah the red card, but the harm had already been done. In this communalized carnival, the burden of saving secularism unhappily fell on the Muslim community.

In some ways, the riots were not accidental or spontaneous. The hatred was cemented over a period of time through lies, rumours, distorted reading of history and flawed interpretation of state policies. Muslims were presented as the favoured community after the government of Mulayam Singh Yadav came to power. An impression was given that no goon from the minority community would be arrested to ensure their support during the elections. Rumours about love commandos, or Muslim boys luring innocent Hindu girls away, were generously floated. These bred unfounded insecurities in the minds of the communities.

Gujarat provides a good example of what the riots have done to the politics of the state —they have made the minority vote irrelevant. Here the Congress, BJP or any other party is animated by ex-BJP and RSS types — nothing to choose between them at all. The Congress is reluctant to talk about the fate of the Muslims after the 2002 riots or even about the horrible conditions in which this community is made to live. So, from a social engineering point of view, too, this election is very important. Will the juggernaut of Hindu nationalism leave any political space for the minorities?

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: MAY 2014