Four months have gone by after the worst communal mayhem in western Uttar Pradesh and hundreds of riot victims in Muzaffarnagar are still staring at an uncertain destiny. Death and despair define the life of victims facing the fury of a relentless winter in relief camps. Shemin Joy of Deccan Herald spoke to Badri Narayan, Professor of Social History and Cultural Anthropology at G B Pant Social Science Institute in Allahabad on riots, governance in UP and how communal cauldron may change electoral landscape. Excerpts:
Riots happened in August and the victims remain a hapless lot. Has governance completely broken down in UP so that one cannot get relief in such situations?
You might have seen how administration dealt with riots. It shows that governance is in bad shape. You are hearing everyday about Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav scolding this minister or that bureaucrat saying they should not do this or that. I am not able to understand why they are not able to provide relief to Muslims, who are one of their core bases. Why are they not able to help them out? It means governance is not in their hands. Either they do not have expertise or they are just inefficient.
Didn’t the victims deserve a better deal?
Those in camps are facing a very bad time. In this severe cold, they are without proper blankets, not enough water and no toilets. People are suffering from diseases and some have died. As the government has failed in attending to their problems, now the leadership is talking against victims. Mulayam’s recent remarks that those staying in relief camps are conspirators belonging to Congress and BJP show that desperation.
The UP government also came up with compensation for Muslims. Is SP playing the communal card?
The SP tried to do communal politics. Muslims have become anti-SP now. They are inclined to move towards the Congress. But the Congress is not able to capture this segment. Muslims are known for strategic voting. I feel, in eastern UP where the Congress is strong, Muslims will vote for them and in other places, they may vote for parties like the SP or the BSP, which can win against the BJP. The BSP this time will improve its performance as it may get more Muslim votes.
People know what happened in Muzaffarnagar. But the question is why Muzaffarnagar riots happened?
It happened because of the SP and the BJP. Both are eager to perform well in this key state in the general elections. Mulayam is eager as he has ambitions of becoming the prime minister. It appears that there was some consensus on mobilising Muslims and Hindus. But the grammar of communal riots is that we cannot control riots once it becomes big. Those who organise communal riots believe that they can control its pace. But when it flares up, they cannot control. May be, they wanted to have small tensions but when it happened, it happened on a big scale. On SP side, you have minister Azam Khan delivering fiery speeches and on the other, the BJP-RSS using the plank of honour of women for mobilisation. First time, you witnessed riots in the villages.
You mean to say that Muzaffarnagar riots may have an effect on the Lok Sabha elections in UP, especially among Muslims? Will it consolidate Hindu votes also?
Already, RSS is trying to disseminate the message of Muzaffarnagar riots. Statements coming from certain VHP leaders point towards that. Then there is mobilisation in the name of Modi, an image spread by media of a man of development. That image may be spread to rural areas also. Then they will also play the backward caste card to project Modi among rural masses. I will call this a political narrative based on ‘development’, which means development plus Hindutva plus backward caste card. The riots may have an effect across UP.
The riots had broken the ages-old Muslim-Jat relationship in the sugar belt. Has the relationship between Muslims and Jats broken?
You should understand the mechanics of communal riots. The conflict always happens with those who are your neighbours and not with those who are far. They were intimate neighbours and they had love and hatred for each other at the same time. That hatred part was mobilised by BJP. This harmed the social fabric. It will take long time to repair that relationship.