Political significance of Uttar Pradesh’s bulldozer demolitions

The irreversible process of destroying a home and along with it the lives of real people without a proper judicial process is the new norm for a ‘new India’ being shaped
Last Updated : 16 June 2022, 03:05 IST

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The Yogi Adityanath administration has left nobody in any doubt about what the bulldozer demolitions in the state are really about. He and his police force decide who is a ‘criminal’ and dispense justice by demolishing their homes. The judiciary is sought to be propitiated by using the veneer of municipal building planning laws while the demolitions serve a larger ideological purpose of generating fear in the minority community. This has been a successful strategy in Yogi Adityanath winning a second term in office.

Recall that even Prime Minister Narendra Modi had endorsed Adityanath's use of bulldozers in the run-up to the state assembly elections. Laying the foundation stone of the Ganga Expressway on December 18, 2021, he had said, “When the bulldozer runs over the mafia … the bulldozer runs over the illegal building but the person who is nurturing it feels the pain. That is why the people of UP are saying, ‘UP plus Yogi, bahut hain upyogi (UP plus Yogi is most useful)’.” No court has ever ordered the demolition of the home or even a convicted criminal as a form of punishment. This is because there is no law in India which prescribes the demolition of a convicted person’s house as the penalty for any offence. The votaries of a ‘strong’ law-and-order state, therefore, need to hide their use of brute force in the shadow of violation of municipal planning laws.

That municipal building laws are only a fig leaf to rationalise bulldozer action is evident. Adityanath has said that the “bulldozer action” is against “criminals” and that he will not spare history-sheeters and the mafia. His advisor, Mrityunjay Kumar, referring to the protests that followed on Friday, June 10, over insults to the Prophet and the demolition of houses of protestors thereafter, has warned protestors: “Troublemakers must remember - for every Friday there is a Saturday." The action is indeed the Yogi government’s “return gift for protestors” as a ruling party legislator described the police brutality against the protestors.

If building laws and planning permissions were indeed implemented uniformly, half the properties in Indian towns and cities would have to be demolished either partially or fully. A recent survey published in national newspapers, for example, found that 35 per cent of a sample of buildings surveyed in Gujarat - in Ahmedabad, Surat, Rajkot and Vadodara – were illegal. Not one of them has been demolished. There is no reason to believe that the situation is very different in cities and towns in other states.

Cleaning the Augean stables of planning departments of municipal bodies has been beyond the ken of governments and city administrations up to now. If demolishing illegal constructions was being pursued using bulldozers, then they would have been seen in the houses of all those MPs and ministers who have constructed illegal home offices, reception areas and guest accommodation within the premises of their vast bungalows in Lutyens Delhi.

One must therefore recognise that the Yogi government in UP is partnering with the ‘official experts of illegalities’ in municipal planning departments of Prayagraj, Saharanpur, Moradabad, and Ambedkar Nagar to pursue its ideological objectives. Working in tandem with the local planning bodies also permits the state government to present the use of bulldozers as an activity that is apolitical, non-ideological and neutral. The cover of municipal planning laws allows the ideological state to thus “normalise” the use of bulldozers for the demolition of homes of a targeted class of citizens – mostly Muslim.

However, that is not enough for the brute strength of the state. It also needs to be put on display to consolidate the support of the faithful and instil fear in the hearts of the minority community. It must be a lesson for those who might think of protesting against the state or opposing its policies through mobilising mass demonstrations – they must fear that the next house to be demolished could be theirs. This can only be done if each demolition is publicised and converted into a public spectacle. The demolitions in UP (and elsewhere in other BJP-run states) have been telecast live by a pliant media – television, still cameras, reporters broadcasting live - which record the event and underline its theatrical effect. For the benefit of those who could not be eyewitnesses to the demolition, the footage is then repeated in prime-time TV discussions for days on end. This further amplifies the ideological message in which the majority community is expected to take pleasure in the pain of the minority, whose homes are being destroyed in blatant defiance of any sense of justice or human values. Without its theatrical effect, the demolition of homes means little and earns no political capital.

The irreversible process of destroying a home and along with it the lives of real people without a proper judicial process is the new norm for a ‘new India’ being shaped. There is no redressal for it. The strategy seems to be to isolate, contain and control the minority by criminalising entire families and also collectively as a community. Muslims of India are quite likely to see this as part of a systematic attempt by the majoritarian forces to strangulate them economically, socially and culturally. The question, however, is what does the majority community think and how far is it willing to go to protect the idea of a constitutional, secular and inclusive India. Would writing a letter to the Chief Justice of India by a few retired judges be enough or does there need to be a more political response from the mainstream parties?

(Bharat Bhushan is a journalist based in Delhi)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

Published 16 June 2022, 03:04 IST

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