Riot As Reason

Communal passion is not as confinable as the powers that be keep trying to define. They said ‘Muzaffarnagar’ was a small incident and yet 40 people became corposes in a week. Officially however, ‘a total of 38 people died in various districts of western Uttar Pradesh with 34 deaths in Muzaffarnagar’. Peace was so clearly and loudly the demand of the riot victims in every single ghettoised enclave of the riot-hit region that even the sultans of Delhi couldn’t pretend not to have heard it. They sent paramilitary forces to tackle the situation while promising all kinds of help to the beleaguered Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh (UP). Then they indulged in the blame game to derive extra mileage in the run up to the coming general elections.

Everybody is blaming it on the young and inexperienced chief minister of UP for not taking appropriate steps on time, albeit problems with communal overtones were brewing since August 27. No doubt there was an administrative failure at every level to rein in the tense situation. But communal riots are so endemic in Indian polity that people have forgotten to talk of communal harmony in permanence.

It is not desirable to call in the army to restore normalcy. After all the army is not people’s friend. But they called in the army, though belatedly, to maintain law and order as the Muzaffarnagar spark was literally going to start a large-scale fire! Strangely enough, this time highly communalised Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) didn’t face the flak from registered secularists. True, in his first stint as chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, otherwise the most redoubtable caste lord of north India, recruited some members from the minority community in the notorious PAC. But this populist measure, designed to catch minority votes, seems to be not helping. And it won’t. Changing the complexion of a security establishment on which politicians of all hues depend heavily for all their misdeeds, is not that easy. But the very presence of the army indicates that the problem is too serious to be tackled in ordinary law and order framework.

In truth all political parties, secular and communal, stand to gain from communal riots. Innocent people, not political bosses, suffer. And that is the rule of the game. That the saffron club will benefit enormously at this juncture by communally polarising voters is a fact of life. But other stakeholders too are not unhappy about criminalisation and lumpenisation of politics as they have now something to do, something to talk about in a dull political scenario plagued by the steady fall of rupee and staggering current account deficit.

While accusing the UP government of ‘lax’ attitude, left parties finished their secular duty by trying their guns on the eternal villain—the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—for taking advantage of people’s plight to garner votes. In their view only BJP and its frontal outfit RSS are periodically formenting communal tensions and riots can be averted simply by criticising them and that too somewhat vaguely. Then the Bahujan Samaj Party of Ms Mayawati and the kulak lobby representative of western UP—Rashtriya Loktantrik Dal of Ajit Singh—squarely blamed it on the ruling Samajwadi Party and BJP for the ensuing riots and communal polarisation, again for electoral calculus. Not that this is the first communal riot under the Samajwadi dispensation. During the last one year UP witnessed a series of communal incidents and on every occasion the party in power downplayed the danger otherwise in-built in the polity. If anything the ruling party has nothing to lose in electoral politics if there occur more communal riots in the future, the chances of which are bright, as they would get enough elbow room to project themselves as the sole saviour of the minority community.

BJP is not in power in UP and yet communal riots break out every now and then. Congress is no secular god people can rely upon. Major communal riots occurred under Congress rule include—Jabalpur in 1961, Ahmedabad in 1969 and 1984, Bhinwandi in 1970 and 1984, Nellie in 1983, anti-Sikh riot in 1984, Bhagalpur in 1984, Moradabad, Godhra in 1987, Meerat in 1987 and so on. The list can be lengthened. The point at issue is no political party in India is immune to communal virus. What BJP does somewhat nakedly, rather crudely by openly demonising the minority community and locating the enemy in the ‘other’, is being done by so-called secular parties under subtle and calculated manner.

More they talk of secularism without any action-programme to spread secular values, more they face communal danger. For all practical purposes communalism is on the rise. The bitter legacy left by history cannot be eased simply by issuing harmless statements and grilling the saffron brigade all the time without fighting them politically. Secular India was created on the basis of a communal award and Congress was a party to it. Areas that revolted against oppression and social evils in the yester years had all along been less prone to communal appeal even during hard times. Also, communalism has its economic base and it is one of the reasons why communal forces cannot be fought in a situation of galloping economic ineuqity and stagnation in social mobility.

Regions where communist parties and other forces on the left led peasant struggles in the fifties and sixties had to face less communal violence. The very concept of class struggle is a misnomer in Marxist discourses these days. All are trying to secularise the society—if they are at all serious beyond vote politics—by aimlessly projecting a picture that doesn’t tally with the ground reality.

The basic problem is how to practise secularism in concrete terms to involve all sections of the society without allowing identitarian and religious outlooks to gain dominating social and political space.

Vol. 46, No. 11, Sep 22 - 28, 2013

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