Timely strictures

The Supreme Court has rightly indicted the Uttar Pradesh government for its failure to prevent the communal riots of August-September last year in Muzaffarnagar and its poor handling of the situation after they broke out.

Even without the court’s strictures, the lapses of the government were clear from the accounts of people who lost their kith and kin and were displaced or suffered in many ways, and from the reports and narratives of others who visited the area and interacted with the victims. Over 60 people were killed and thousands of people are still living in relief camps, unable to return to their homes because of fear and insecurity. The government has not taken care of them also and the court had to issue orders for payment of compensation and to ensure rehabilitation of the affected people. The court has also found fault with the Central government for not providing intelligence inputs or providing financial support to the state government. It is a different matter whether it would have been of much help.

There are some valid questions arising from the court’s observations and findings. Are not the authorities who fail to prevent or mishandle communal riots as culpable as those who kill and destroy in the riots? The court’s refusal to order a CBI or an SIT probe, which might have fixed the responsibility of political or official authorities, can even be criticised in this context. But it is debatable whether the courts have to intervene in all such situations and prescribe remedies. There are also cases of such interventions not producing the desired results. The Supreme Court ordered investigation under its own supervision into the 2002 Gujarat riots cases after long years of inadequate action on the part of the state government. Its results are still controversial.

The unfortunate situation is that governments and political parties often have a vested interest in social discord and trouble and they even take advantage of them. The UP government has withdrawn cases against some of the accused in the Muzaffarnagar riots. Some parties have given tickets in the coming elections to persons who are thought to have had a role in the riots.  These parties blame each other but they are all complicit in the criminal politics of communalism. Society has to ponder over this because ultimately it is people who suffer and pay the price for the failures of governments and parties. The court’s strictures are a reminder of that.

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