As thousands of people armed with knives, daggers and swords were marching towards the ‘mahapanchayat’ in Muzaffarnagar on September 7, Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde telephoned Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav around 12:30 p.m. Shinde told him that miscreants might incite the crowd and that the state government should ensure the people’s safety. Yadav, it seems, took his words lightly. Though section 144 of the CrPC was imposed, the district authorities allowed thousands of people to gather at the ‘mahapanchayat’. What followed was one of the worst communal riots the state has seen since the early 1990s.
While the riots have put the state government in the dock, Shinde, may have to explain why he did not do more to stop the communal frenzy despite having specific information. He, more than anybody else, knew that the Muzaffarnagar violence was not an isolated incident; the state has seen more than 100 communal riots in the last two years. According to Shinde’s own statement, 451 cases of communal violence have been registered in India this year, up from 410 in the whole of 2012, and tensions were expected to escalate in the build-up to the 2014 general elections. The Intelligence Bureau had briefed Shinde and Home Secretary Anil Goswami, after identifying 11 states, including Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Gujarat, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, as vulnerable to communal riots.
Uttar Pradesh was identified as the most riot-prone state as religion and caste played a central role in its politics. The IB had warned that some leaders had been “openly trying to stoke the fires of communal tension” in Uttar Pradesh. “I can’t say about political conspiracies till I get a complete report about the violence [in Muzaffarnagar],” said Shinde. “But political parties could indulge in it.”
The Union government also failed to assist the state in controlling the violence as well. Shinde said the home secretary had alerted the CRPF and other paramilitary forces and orders had been immediately issued to deploy the troops to control the situation. But as violence spread, there was no sign of these forces on the spot. Instead of arresting the armed rioters, the local police deferentially cleared the path for them to run amok. The Union government also failed to block a fake video someone had posted online about the violence. The clip was actually about a village on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and was shot several years ago.
Home ministry officials said riots in India were highly localised. But they were baffled how people from at least three states joined the communal frenzy in Muzaffarnagar and how rapidly riots spread from cities to villages. The Jat Hindu community and Muslims in Muzaffarnagar did not have a history of tension. “These communities have lived side by side,” said a senior official of the home ministry. “They were exploited for political reasons.”
THE WEE, September 22, 2013