Riots may impact ruling SP fortunes

Riots may impact ruling SP fortunes

While immediate cause of communal flare-up in Muzaffarnagar in western Uttar Pradesh may be an amalgamation of a girl’s molestation, resentment by her two brothers leading to molester’s killing, and their subsequent lynching by persons belonging to molester’s religion, it also speaks about police inaction, administrative inefficiency, intelligence failure and political mess plaguing Akhileah Yadav government. The western UP is dominated by Jats and Muslims.

The 1931 census as well as rapid census by the SP-BSP government in 1994 reported an unchanged 2 per cent population of Jats in UP (mainly confined to its western districts.) The Muslim population there has risen sharply to over

33 per cent vis-à-vis 19 in the state during the same period. Muslims reside mainly in urban areas whereas Jats inhabit villages. That divide was kept in check so long as Charan Singh, former prime minister continued to dominate western UP, also called ‘Jatland.’ But, after his death in 1987, his party Lok Dal split, one faction led by his son Ajit Singh continued to dominate the Jats whereas leader of another, Mulayam Singh Yadav,  befriended Muslims. The Jat-Muslim divide acquired political character, but in the absence of an able leadership, got degenerated into a social cleavage on communal lines. The current flare-up is an outcome of that deep divide.

The Muzaffarnagar violence is disturbing on two counts. One, the magnitude of violence was such that the Army had to be deployed after 21 years in the state; two, during the search, very sophisticated weapons, such as  AK-47 were seized hinting at the possibility of the area becoming terrorists’ hub.

We have a Jat-regiment in the Army and any inept handing of Jat-Muslim flare-up may have security implications. We had seen discomfiture in Sikh-regiment during anti-Sikh riots in 1984. The SP’s drive to woo Muslims is taken advantage of by criminals and anti-national elements.

The matters become worse as parties, especially SP, supposedly dedicated to secularism, fail to evolve clear vision as to what secularism means in practice while they are often accused of Muslim appeasement. Jats, Dalits and other communities nurse a grouse that the Muslims, not a minority in western UP, continue to derive all benefits meant for the minority community.

The inability of the government to formulate rational and citizen-centric policies in place of those targeting specific social and religious groups, lands it in precarious situations where ill-governance is intertwined with collapse of rule of law. Obviously, that provides rich fodder for explosions like the one we saw in Muzaffarnagar recently.

The present developments are likely to affect adversely the fortunes of Akhilesh Yadav government and his party. Senior ministers, including Azam Khan, criticised their own government for riots. It even provoked senior party leader Ram Gopal Yadav to demand Azam’s resignation. Though it may not spell any immediate threat to the state government, the angry outburst of the Muslim outfits demanding its dismissal hints at the possibility of a major shift of West UP Muslims, a formidable support base of SP, towards Congress in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. However, the pattern of shift may be different in eastern UP where small Muslim parties like Quami Ekta Dal, Ulema Council and Peace Party may provide alternative platforms.

The SP has come under fire for trying to get a significant number of Lok Sabha seats out of 80 from UP to make ‘Netaji’ as party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav is called, the prime minister.

That may get a jolt now. The SP’s base in West UP had been precarious: while it polled 23.3 per cent in the 2009 LS elections, its share in west UP was just 18.5. While the Congress and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) increased their vote share by 6.2 and 2.8 percentage points respectively, others, including the SP, lost votes. The prime-ministerial agenda has distracted Akhilesh from governance which is made worse by fact that he has kept to himself 55 department, including home, higher education, vigilance, appointments etc. With multiple power centres in government, lawlessness is increasing, corruption is flourishing, bureaucracy is gasping or surrendering, and development is becoming a means to eat up public funds. All that gives people chance to compare BSP leader Mayawati’s regime favourably.

It is ironical that the BJP has been harping on “Ram mandir” when UP voters had clearly rejected their Hindutva agenda. The party has suffered a steady decline in UP since the demolition of the Ramjanambhoomi-Babri Masjid in 1992. But, instead of appreciating secular credentials of Hindu voters, the SP has always pestered them and put the burden of demonstrating and defending secularism on them.

That is one reason why the SP could not make inroads into peasant communities and lower Other Backward Classes and failed to homogenise the backward classes. The SP appears to be the ‘double loser’: it is losing hold on the Muslims because they think that Akhilesh failed to emulate Mulayam of the 1990s when his government protected them. It may also lose Jats and Hindus because these two communities think that the government has lost balance in its drive to appease Muslims. Such voters may move to the BJP in 2014. So, if UP sees any revival of the BJP, credit for the same must go to Akhilesh and his Samajwadi Party.

(The author teaches politics at Christ Church College, Kanpur)

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