“I saw the police burning our car parked in the ghetto. I saw it with my own eyes,” Javed Khan, a theatre performer and social activist, told me while serving Eid delicacies at his family home in Saharanpur, a northern district of Uttar Pradesh, which is just four hours’ drive from Delhi. Javed was talking about the 2014 communal riots in Saharanpur that happened during Eid.
“The car was parked near our school, which is in a Muslim-dominated area. The police constabulary were behaving as if they themselves were rioters,” Javed said with pain.
Hailing from Muslim aristocracy, most of the close relatives of Javed in his father’s generation had opted to migrate to Pakistan during Partition. “My father, a staunch nationalist, opted to stay in India. I’m proud about it. But sometimes I get depressed when state agencies treat us as second class citizens,” he rued.
My travel to different parts of UP in recent months has made one thing very clear to me: state institutions in the state are increasingly getting saffronised during the rule of the Samajwadi Party, a regime that captured state power by systematically playing with the insecurities faced by Muslim minorities from the aggressive Hindutva forces.
Several communal riots (only major riots got national attention) that happened during SP regime cement this belief. Whenever I spoke to Muslim victims of communal riots, they complained how methodically state agencies like police and revenue administration took a biased position. “It’s very tough to differentiate whether it’s the BJP or SP government in UP,” some communal riot victims had told me at Delhi’s protest district, Jantar Mantar.
However, the rudest shock was the recent FIR filed against the kin of Mohammad Akhlaq Saifi. The 52 year old was murdered by a militant Hindu mob for allegedly consuming and storing beef.
An FIR was filed after a local court ordered to register a case using provisions of the Uttar Pradesh Cow Protection Act, 1955. The court relied on a report by a forensic lab in Mathura that said that the meat sample was “cow or its progeny”.
Sources close to the ruling party’s top brass justify the FIR by arguing that technically there was no other option for the state government once there is a court order. But how valid is their ‘technical’ reason?
It’s well documented that the role of revenue administration and police is extremely important to ensure justice to victims of communal riots in India.
For instance, the inaction of the administration and police during the 2002 Gujarat riots led to the loss of many lives. The alleged complicity of the state machinery helped destruction of incriminating evidence that would have supported prosecution was destroyed.
On the other hand, evidence were fabricated in favour of many of the accused. It would be illogical to expect a sensitive approach from the government, which was led by then chief minister Narendra Modi.
But what about the Samajwadi Party government in UP, whose supremo is often referred as “Maulana Mulayam” for “espousing the cause of Muslims”? Akhlaq’s family members have alleged that the meat sample that was sent to the forensic lab was not seized from their house but was picked up from the road where the Hindu activists had gathered on that fateful night in September 2015.
If this is true, why are the victim’s kin being framed in this case?
Trying to find answers to these questions will definitely lead us to the upcoming UP Assembly polls. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP is shrewdly deploying a lethal mix of neo-liberal developmentalism and the Hindutva card to capture power in the politically crucial state.
The Hindu nationalist party calculates that a win in UP would eventually help it consolidate power in Delhi. The country’s most populous state sends 80 lawmakers to the parliament.
A close look at the SP government’s manner of dealing Dadri murder clearly reveals that the party of “Maulana Mulayam” is eager to please the constituency of “Hindu Hridaya Samrat” by appeasing the saffron brigade.
In fact, Mulayam Singh himself had given hints about SP’s political tactics when he recently expressed regret for firing at karsevaks. The UP police had fired at Hindu zealots who were marching to Ayodhya to demolish the 16 century Babri Masjid.
Mulayam made this statement at a function to commemorate the birth anniversary of socialist ideologue Karpoori Thakur.
His statement was followed by carefully crafted statements on cow protection by Shivpal Singh Yadav, Mulayam’s younger brother and a powerful minister in the government headed by his son Akhilesh Yadav.
Very significantly, Mulayam himself raised the issue of cow slaughter in Parliament this May. “It is an important matter… people steal cows, cut them and sell it in the US… the number is falling,” Mulayam had said in the Lok Sabha.
All these statements indicate that his Samajwadi Party is trying to compete with the BJP by playing Hindutva…but can you beat your enemy at enemy’s own turf in a game where all rules are decided by your enemy?