Is BJP fishing in choppy waters of communally sensitive UP?

By Mohit Dubey,

Lucknow: Is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) fishing in choppy waters for electoral gains in Uttar Pradesh? Activities of the saffron leaders in the last few days suggest that the party’s state unit was not only in overdrive to consolidate its gains in the April-May Lok Sabha elections when it won 71 of the state’s 80 seats.

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On its part, the Akhilesh Yadav government alleges that BJP leaders were taking “law in their own hands and whipping communal passions.”

The latest instance concerns the small village of Kanth in Moradabad, a predominantly Muslim district, which has been at the centre of all activity for the past week. It began with the police removing loudspeakers from a Shiva temple on the instructions of the district administration. The Hindu residents objected and there were sporadic protests.

Apparently sensing the polarization of the communities, the BJP leaders in the region joined the protest. Moradabad MP Kunwar Sarvesh Kumar says he only joined the protests after the locals sought his support.

A decision to hold a “mahapanchayat” (mass gathering of elders and community leaders) was called by locals – and got BJP support – at which “an action plan for an ‘aar-paar ki ladai’ (a conclusive battle) was to be chalked out”. Predictly enough, the state government banned the gathering as it had a bitter experience of a similar event when violence broke out in its aftermath in Muzaffarnagar last September. That had triggered large-scale communal riots in the region which left at least 63 dead and displaced thousands from their homes.

A senior home department official told IANS that local intelligence inputs had also talked of a “brewing storm”, after which the administration was asked to “get its act together” and tackle the issue with a firm hand. Singed by a series of communal clashes in the past and the drubbing in the Lok Sabha polls in which the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) was humbled, largely because of the lack of Muslim support, the political leadership of the ruling party also was not ready to take any more chances with Kanth.

Appeals to BJP leaders and backroom parleys failed to deliver the desired results after which, sources said, both sides decided to stick to their guns. BJP state president Laxmikant Bajpai, meanwhile, “took command of the show” and directed senior leaders to reach out to Kanth’s villagers and express their solidarity by their presence at the July 4 “mahapanchayat”. Many say while Rampur, Amroha and Moradabad MPs heading to the village was justified, they question the presence of Sardhana legislator Sangeet Som in the region.

Som, referred to as “Mr Trouble” by officials, was accused of inciting passions in Muzaffarnagar during the riots and was briefly jailed. BJP leaders refused to comment on Som’s presence. BJP state spokesman Vijay Bahadur Pathak, however, told IANS that the party was not playing politics in the issue and was “merely siding with the sentiments of the pople in Kanth”. Asked if these were not pre-meditated attempts to foment trouble, he answered in the negative.

Kanth has a predominant population of Dalits and many women were at the receiving end of police high-handedness when the loudspeakers were removed from the Shiva temple. Sources say the BJP’s support to the community is being seen as another attempt to wean them away from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

Having tasted success with the Dalits in the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP wants to “take the experiment further,” a top leader admitted. “When it comes to politics between communities, Dalits act as Hindus and so we see no harm in this consolidation” he chuckled.

The Moradabad MP, however, denied that he was fanning passions and said it was to sort out the issue that he had also gone to meet the Muslim legislator of the Peace Party but they backtracked after the initial agreement.

Markets in Kanth have been closed for the last one week and the situation is explosive, senior police officers admit. The tension found echo in the way policemen were attacked by the villagers Friday, leaving the district magistrate, a superintendent of police and two circle officers seriously injured in the stone pelting.

Rajendra Chowdhary, the state spokesman of the SP and the state’s political pensions minister, however, accuses the BJP of inciting communal passions for electoral gains.

“Ever since they have formed a government at the centre, they are running amok, but the SP government will not allow them to destroy the secular fabric of the state at any cost,” he said.

Congress and BSP leaders have urged the state government to act strongly against BJP leaders. Uttar Pradesh has had more than 150 small and big communal clashes in the past two years of SP rule.

(Mohit Dubey can be contacted at [email protected])