‘People talking about Love Jihad are those who actually love jihad’
Jayant Chaudhary, General Secretary of the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and grandson of the late former PM Charan Singh, talks about the current upheavals in Jat politics in Western Uttar Pradesh
Sadiq Naqvi Delhi
What is your assessment of the situation on the ground?
It’s still tense. There is unease in the air, as people have not gotten over the tragic events. to start with, there are so many cases. You have criminals roaming scot-free while the innocents languish in jails and face the wrath of the legal system. And, of course, there has been massive displacement. Muslims are not ready to go back to the villages. The economy has been hit hard. Land prices have fallen. The agri industries, like the sugarcane industry, are in a bad shape. That was one place where Hindus and Muslims used to work together.
The crisis has had a rollover effect. It’s a big challenge to wean the younger generation off this cycle of hatred. The fact of the matter is that the state government is perceived to be a part of the problem, and not the solution. So, as long as people perceive the state government to be tilted a certain way—that’s part of the Samajwadi Party politics––the angst will remain. The anger that should have been directed at the apathy of the state government got channelled into a Hindu-Muslim tug of war. If the guilty were caught and punished at the right time, the whole thing would have fizzled out. Even today, you hear these kinds of incidents happening every day, all across UP. Any one of them could flare up into a
Do you believe that the state government is indeed sympathetic to one community?
See, whether I agree or not doesn’t matter. This is the perception. What is the government doing to change that perception? It is not a healthy perception in a democracy. It is their prerogative to change the perception. Majoritarianism isn’t a healthy precedent, but neither is it desirable that the majority thinks certain sections of the minorities are being mollycoddled at their expense.
There has to be balance. You have to take every element of society with you. The minorities might be feeling insecure, especially after these incidents and the election results, they have been badly hit. So sensitivity is required. But at the same time it should not hurt any other segment. That’s a tough tightrope to walk on. The BJP finds itself on one extreme end of this spectrum, but if the Samajwadi Party continues to act in the other extreme, people like us talking of a middle path will continue to
Do you see a political conspiracy behind the communal disturbances in the whole region?
It is a very convenient politics from both sides. If you look at the kind of issues that the BJP has been raking up even after having a massive verdict, it’s pointing to a confused verdict. Some youth think that they voted for development, some think they were just angry with the incumbent government; some of them are open about it and say it was Hindu ascendancy and Modi was going to put them right. The aggressive Modi was what this last crowd voted for. After getting such a massive verdict, it is the responsibility of the government to show a big heart. But if you look, especially at UP, and at BJP’s agenda, the issues they are identifying as being critical to their next campaign are all very dangerous. Whether it’s Love Jihad, Yogi Adityanath’s controversial statement, or Suresh Rana and Sangeet Som talking about their security, and then celebrating the (riot) anniversary in Kawal, these parties do not want people to move on from the events. People talking about Love Jihad are the people who actually love jihad. They want the jihad to continue.
You mentioned that the situation has improved. Why do you say so?
I see small indications during my interactions with the people after the election results. They voted a certain way and now they have expectations from the government. We are in the opposition but we will try to help in whichever way we can. The people are coming forward and saying we should focus on the economy. Sugarcane farmers, they want their remuneration, their problems to be taken up. They are returning to everyday issues, which is a good sign. People want normalcy to return. There is lethargy setting in. The Love Jihad comment did not go down very well with the people. And on top of that, Azam Khan is very quiet (laughs).
What caused this rupture between the Jat-Muslim alliance?
The tension was simmering for a while. The fact that the political alliance weakened didn’t help matters. It has been weakening over the last two-three elections. It’s either a political alliance or an economic relationship that keeps the society together. So if the Jats think that the Muslims are not voting for us or the economy gets disrupted, or if there are cultural tensions, then these sort of eruptions take place. Muslims think that Jats are not voting for Muslim candidates. There is politics behind this as well.
Do you think the RLD aligning with the BJP earlier also played a role?
In the middle, we did align with the BJP. But our outlook is different from the BJP’s. That’s the reason we didn’t merge with the BJP, like Nitish Kumar did. That was the argument that our Muslim workers went with. Of course, it didn’t translate to too many votes and that hurt us electorally. And from then on, maybe some lines were etched on people’s minds. But if you look at the way we responded to the riots, perhaps we were the only people who were trying to control things, we are the only party whose people have not been named in any FIR. All other parties have their MPs, MLAs involved in the riots. We are the only party that people claim was targeted. The sad bit is that the people who were genuinely upset with the riots lost the elections and people happy about the disruption won by huge margins. Perhaps those lines were there because of our aligning with the BJP, but if you look at the secular nature of our issues, I think people need to look beyond what alliances we make. We are a small party so we had to maintain a flexible approach. At least on our issues we have been consistent.
Do you think there is a possibility of all secular forces coming together in UP?
In politics, you can’t count anything or anyone out. That is what we will say since we didn’t perform well in the elections. The Bihar election results have given some people hope. Indian politics is always very dynamic. I think the next UP elections will see some realignments coming through. But for that, the BSP needs to do some introspection and so does the SP, as to what path they have to take. They are in a position where they can actually effect big change. They are in the government, they have some time. People have already started making up their minds, but they still have time if they come up with the right kind of policy measures and if the perception improves. Right now, I don’t see any efforts being made in UP. Bihar is a different case but I don’t see any significant efforts, there has been no dialogue.
What do you think of PM Modi’s 10-year moratorium on communal violence in his Independence Day speech?
Why ten years? So the 11th year there should be a riot? No one can fault him for saying such nice things. It’s great that he said it. But what I would actually like him to do is be more vocal on what some of his foot soldiers are saying and doing. If he so wishes, he can reprimand them; he could easily speak out on the Love Jihad issue and say that’s not our policy or that’s not the UP we want to create. But he is quiet. So, it is very convenient to use the media. His communication strategy is brilliant. And he will continue to use the media the way he likes.
Do you think the local media is playing a role in fomenting communal trouble?
I believe so. If you look at the Minority Commission report, they have actually named some publications, and said they were quite inflammatory. The headlines after the riots, screaming that many Jats have been killed or are missing, the figures don’t match the reality. Or the other headlines that said many thousands of Muslims were killed, displaced or gone missing. So there was an attempt on both sides. The vernacular local papers are equally guilty, like the big publications that are very active in UP. This is where you see the Press Council of India has no teeth.
I am all for internal regulation, but that’s not happening in this case. And I will blame the fact that the subscription revenues are non-existent, and they are dependent on corporate sponsorships and advertisements, which is why the corporate houses will continue to dictate what they write. The editorial content today is being dictated by the owners. And so the political biases will creep into the publication. In UP, the last Lok Sabha campaign was for the first time sustained very effectively in a certain direction. We need to look if the PCI regulation or monitoring is effective enough. I am all for minimal governmental interference, but I don’t see any strictures being put against any paper in spite of their provocative content.
I don’t see why one must mention the religious identity of the parties involved if the case was that of eve-teasing. It’s for the first time that they’re naming the communities in a targeted and sensationalist manner.