Communal violence may change political equations in UP

The recent communal violence in some western Uttar Pradesh districts that left at least 50 dead and hundreds injured besides displacing a whopping 40,000 people, could change the political equation in the region. The large scale violence had engulfed Muzaffarnagar district in particular and the adjoining districts of Meerut, Shamli and Bulandshahar, which have a sizeable Muslim and Jat population.

The Jat belt has been traditionally the supporter of the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) from the days of former prime minister Chaudhary Charan Singh, who had successfully woven the ‘Jat-Muslim’ combination and reaped rich electoral dividends.

The recent riots, however, has shaken the ‘Jat-Muslim’ unity as the two communities fought each other in several villages in Muzaffarnagar following an incident of molestation of a Jat girl allegedly by a Muslim youth at Kaval village. Angry relatives of the girl killed the youth. In retaliation, two relatives of the girl were also allegedly killed by the Muslims.

The communal conflagration reached the remote villages and a large number of Muslim families had to flee from their homes in the Jat dominated villages and take shelter in the relief camps. Sensing a major shift in the voting pattern in the region following violence, major political players - Congress, BJP, Samajwadi Party and BSP - scurried to ‘analyse’ the ‘political effect’ of  the riots in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections.

Though for the record, every party has condemned the violence and blamed each other for the situation, their leaders were trying to ascertain if the riots would in any way result in ‘polarisation' of voters along the religious lines and which party stood to gain most if it did happen.

According to the political observers, RLD appears to be the worst hit politically by the violence as both Jats and Muslims are now angry with the party for not coming to their rescue. The RLD led by the union minister Ajit Singh was desperately trying to salvage the situation and its leaders have been holding meetings with the Jat and Muslim leaders to bring the two communities closer again. The ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) hoped to corner a major chunk of the Muslim votes in case of such a ‘polarisation'. But the subsequent developments seem to have gone against the party.

The SP has witnessed large scale exodus of both Muslim and Jat leaders over state government's handling of the communal riots. The party finds itself in a quandary for it can not be seen to be supporting either the Jats or the Muslims. The Muslims are sore with the Akhilesh Yadav regime for failing to check the spread of violence. And even a month after the riots, thousands of Muslims continue to live in the relief camps. They have refused to leave the camps as they feared that they would be attacked if they returned home.

Government’s failure

SP sources here said that as many 48 Muslim leaders of the party from Muzaffarnagar had sent in their resignations in protest against the government's failure to contain the violence. “There is no point in remaining in the SP when the government can not safeguard the lives of our community members”, said a local Muslim leader.

On the other hand, the Jats were also upset with Akhilesh for what they alleged ‘one sided arrests’ of their community members in connection with the violence. People from hundreds of villages in the Muzaffarnagar and neighbouring districts have been on the warpath against the authorities for ‘discriminatory arrests’ after the Muzaffarnagar riots. They have been holding a spate of panchayats to discuss their strategy and have vowed to teach the SP a ‘good lesson’ in the polls. One such panchayat had turned violent at Meerut. More panchayats have been proposed in the days to come. SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav did try to do some damage control by forming a team of ministers that included both Muslims and Jats and asking them to visit the affected villages and speak to the people to win back their confidence.

The BJP on the other hand also hopes that a `polarisation' will go a long way in helping its cause. ``Only we spoke for the Hindus...the so called secular parties were busy in appeasement politics'', said a state BJP leader while speaking to Deccan Herald here. The saffron leaders feel that the Jats could well support the BJP in the forthcoming polls, the way they did in 1998 when even RLD leader Ajit Singh had lost his seat to the BJP nominee. The mass protests after the arrests of the BJP MLAs from the region reflected that the party might get a firm foothold in the area. The party currently does not have much presence in the region.

Congress too feels that it may also gain in case of a polarisation. “If the Muslims feel that the Congress is in fight and can defeat the BJP, they will support us...like they had done in 2009 polls”, said a state congress leader. He also said that the Muslims knew that SP could not check the emergence of the ‘communal forces’ in the country. BSP leaders, however, say that they will only impress upon the voters that there were no communal riots during their rule. “The riots affect everyone”, the BSP leaders said. “We will continue to focus on our tested social engineering formula and the law and order issue in the forthcoming elections’’, the leader said.

With the next general elections barely a few months away, it will be interesting to see which party benefits from the changed political equations.

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