‘Muzaffarnagar was just an eruption, the process has been going on for a long time quietly’
Tanweer Fazal, an Associate Professor of Sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University, explains the reasons for communal disharmony in Western UP
Sadiq Naqvi Delhi
What do you make of the communal disturbances in western UP?
Although the RSS presence was not very strong in western UP, it has always been a very fertile ground. In the early 20th century, the Arya Samaj movement grew strong roots there with Jats converting to the Arya Samaj in huge numbers. From its very beginning, the idea of saving Hinduism from Islam and Christianity was central in the Arya Samaj. Shuddikaran etc., emerged within this movement. Now the RSS is building its networks, exploiting certain contradictions that exist in those societies. For instance, certain caste groups among the Muslims in these areas are slightly prosperous, for example, the Qureshi community, which has benefited from globalisation, made money in the meat export business. These sections are now staking their claim in the power structure. Numerically speaking, in most districts in this area the Muslim population ranges from 35 to 40 per cent, and the Muslims in alliance with other groups have been able to enter local self-governance, legislative assemblies and even Parliament. Muslims are otherwise thoroughly underrepresented with their percentage in Parliament ranging from five to six per cent.
However, whatever we are seeing in the last two elections in this region is that, due to resurgence among Muslims, backed by economic prosperity and, consequent to this reality, the distribution of a large number of tickets to Muslim candidates by parties like the Samajwadi Party and the BSP, their share in governance in local bodies and in the Assembly for the first time is close to their share of the population. This is not evident anywhere else except for Jammu and Kashmir. So the contradictions which were hitherto invisible are now being revived and sharpened.
My concern was to find reasons for the growth of the RSS. And my hunch is that this perceived economic prosperity and greater political representation of Muslims is being insidiously used by the RSS to create cleavages in society. Earlier, the Muslim leadership was either subservient or dependent on the other dominant groups but now there is an assertion and to that there is a reaction from the other side. The Muley (Muslim) Jats had earlier always voted alongside their Hindu counterparts, their loyalties traditionally with the Lok Dal, and were also mobilised together by Tikait under the BKU.
What contributed to the end of the Jat-Muslim alliance?
The RLD was also a force which emerged out of the concerns of the rich and middle class peasantry. Socially and culturally it was predominantly Jat. The Muslims of the area were culturally similar to the Jats. The Muley Jats, as they are called, followed the same social systems and traditions and their concerns were similar. So it was a natural social alliance which endured for long. But in the 1990s, when the whole region was communally polarised, the RLD started manoeuvring with the BJP. This was something the Muslim masses couldn’t accept. This led the Jats to suspect that the Muslims would not vote for the Jat candidates. It further meant that the Jats would coerce the Muslims and not allow them to vote like they had been doing with the Dalits and other lower caste groups till then. This was also the time when the BSP was rising and had made a social alliance of the lowest castes. This saw a lot of prosperous Muslims like some Rana or Qureshi coming into the BSP fold and being politically successful.
How do you look at the fact that caste groups like Jats and Jatavs moved away from their traditional political parties and instead voted for the BJP?
Jats and Jatavs were communities irreconcilably hostile to each other. There were structural reasons for this. The interests of the Jats as rich or middling peasants were antagonistic to those of the field labourers, who were largely Dalits. It is hardly a surprise that the Bharatiya Kisan Union’s (or for that matter Lok Dal’s) agenda was never wages or land redistribution. Traditional institutions like the khap system, which were otherwise losing their relevance, were revived by the RLD and the BKU to great political success. Through the last three decades, this contradiction between the Jats and Jatavs was quite evident in this part of the country. So complete was the Jat dominance that the lower castes were not even allowed to vote and remained excluded from the process of politicisation, which Indian democracy offers through elections. This is the time when the BSP was beginning to rise in other parts of UP to gradually become the voice of these powerless Dalits. Coincidentally, at the same time we saw some sections of the Muslims becoming prosperous, the RLD’s flirtations with the BJP fissuring the traditional alliance, and the forging of a new social alliance between the Jatavs and some sections of the Muslims. This is the process through which the BSP made substantial inroads in this region. The BSP’s success came as a moment of crisis not just for the dominant caste groups like the Jats but also for organisations like the RSS and the BJP. So there is a conflation of interest between these dominant castes and the anti-minority BJP, which has brought them together. Muzaffarnagar was just an eruption—the process has been on for a long time silently.
Now whether the Jatavs moved away from the BSP in any substantial number in the last elections is a question hardly settled. It does not appear that the BSP’s core constituency deserted it entirely. However, we need to realise the category ‘Dalit’ is itself a heterogeneous one. The Indian caste system provides an opportunity to even the oppressed groups to look down upon others who are lower down the hierarchy. Jatavs, of late, have attained a degree of social mobility, however limited, and a sense of political empowerment. There are, nevertheless, a large number of other Dalit groups who continue to remain on the margins and are hence easily available for appropriation by any social or political formation. The saffron party also offers a chance for Sanskritisation, a chance to those who were otherwise considered untouchables to dine with other upper caste groups. These are the ‘benefits’ some communities, or their leaders, may vie for. It is a kind of half-baked empowerment or, rather, a disempowerment, but in a momentary phase it appears attractive. You must not forget that the shilanyas (laying of foundation stone) of the Ram Janmabhoomi, a movement then led by LK Advani, was done by a Dalit. Their first chief minister in UP was not an upper caste Kalraj Mishra or Lalji Tandon, but Kalyan Singh who comes from a backward caste. So the BJP engages in these kinds of symbolisms and social experiments. It has been successful too and it will continue to succeed till the time the forces of social justice remain fragmented or partisan in favour of just one community, like the Samajwadi Party is seen more as a Yadav party or the BSP, which people call a Jatav party.
The dominant narrative is that the SP is a party of the Muslims….
This is sheer propaganda of the rightwing forces like the BJP to create artificial fissures within the society to build a vertical unity of the Hindus, irrespective of the caste or class to which they belong. For this they need an external enemy outside the Hindu fold—the Muslims. But in tangible terms, if you see the officebearers, the people the SP, when in power, appoints at the police stations as SHOs, or even their natural support base, it is the Yadavs. In any case, the Muslim vote gets split between SP, BSP and Congress in different proportions.
So from the idea with which the SP began—to speak for the rights of those who have been denied an existence of dignity in society, not just in the caste system but also within the political economy—gradually we see the most backward and other backward groups slipping away from the grasp of the SP. They are looking for various kinds of alternatives, including floating their own parties; the Kurmis, for example, have formed the Apna Dal. But since they cannot win elections on their own, they have entered into a pragmatic alliance with the BJP. They may not be seduced by the idea of Hindutva, but sheer pragmatism, which the electoral process also demands, nudges them towards the next important force, which is the BJP.
So on the one hand, there is a failure of the forces of social justice who have not been able to broaden their vision and, on the other, an assertion by the Hindutva forces who are trying to appropriate the disarray among the various caste groups who are looking for other options. The BJP in the last elections and even in the coming assembly elections will continue to try to build a workable political alliance between these disparate caste groups and its core constituency.
The BSP earlier tried a rainbow alliance between the upper caste and the lower caste. It just lasted one election. Do you think the BJP’s experiment in building Hindu unity will succeed in the long run?
Momentarily, it can, so long as the forces of social justice remain fragmented and remain narrow and restrictive in their vision.