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Communal riots as a poll weapon

Communal riots as a poll weapon
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The very prospect of communal violence becoming a weapon in electioneering is too frightening to be imagined. The devices have been ticking for some...

Amit Shah, under his mentor Narendra Modi, is believed to be an ardent proponent of the community-based polarization as a vote-catcher in the Lok Sabha election. Presently, the same charge has been made against Mulayam Singh too. How this kind of vote polarization can serve his purpose remains a question-mark

The very prospect of communal violence becoming a weapon in electioneering is too frightening to be imagined. The devices have been ticking for some time before they erupted into a communal riot on a large scale in Muzaffarnagar in western UP. The sordid happenings speak of utter failure of the State administration to anticipate the outbreak of trouble: also, it conveys a sad tale of petty political bickering giving a go-by to larger national interests.

Communal violence gripped the area despite the prior alert sounded by the Centre to 11 State governments, including UP, of possible communal disturbances. In fact, the UP government already had a foretaste of it when the VHP wing of the Sangh Parivar decided on launching its 84 Kosi Yatra. The success of the State apparatus in stalling the move effectively made everyone from Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav downwards become complacent without realizing the need to keep up vigilance. But that cannot per se absolve the State machinery of blame for present happenings.

Even if the mystery over the secret hand behind the rioting remains, what one is witnessing now is blame-game between different political groupings in the area: The ruling Samajwadi Party, the Congress, the BSP and the BJP. The SP is, of course, at the receiving end, accused as it is of inaction and neglect of its duties to preserve its Muslim vote-bank. In fact, only the two parties claiming large vote-bank chunks are the SP with wide minority support and the RLD of Union Minister Ajit Singh in this part of ‘Jatland’.

However, it is exactly at this point that the role of the BJP has come into focus. The present confrontation centres round Jats and Muslims who had otherwise been living in perfect harmony hitherto, and any alienation between the two could work to the BJP’s advantage. At least four of the BJPs MLA of the area have been booked in connection with rioting. The SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav has described the incidents as being more of a case of ethnic clash than being a communal riot. The disgusting affair appears to have been getting muddier by the day.

Yet, otherwise the two major forces in UP are the SP and the BSP who emerged as main contenders in the State polls in 2012. But now it is parliamentary elections that are due by coming May in which the Congress and the BJP would assume a greater role for obvious reasons, notwithstanding the ambitions of the two regional satraps, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati. However, the BJP has upped the ante in its present phase of euphoria appointing the Gujarat firebrand, former minister Amit Shah–albeit under a cloud over his alleged role in the communal carnage in the State in 2002– as the party’s campaign manager in UP. Both the BJP and the Congress ran third and fourth, respectively, in the State Assembly polls last year.

Amit Shah, under his mentor Narendra Modi, is believed to be an ardent proponent of the community-based polarization as a vote-catcher in the Lok Sabha election. Presently, the same charge has been made against Mulayam Singh too. How this kind of vote polarization can serve his purpose remains a question-mark.

Even as Muzaffarnagar is too glaring an instance of both administrative and political failure, the Akhilesh government’s record on the communal riots has been far from satisfactory even otherwise; UP having seen over 40 cases of communal violence since he took over, riding to power on the strength of not only the ‘M-Y factor’ but also because of a general sweep. The SP at the moment stands on a much shakier ground. A host of Muslim clerics are up against Akhilesh’s handling of the situation but perhaps of greater relevance is the surfacing of internal dissidence apart from general role of the PAC and the police. They were undoubtedly lax in taking pre-emptive action against the illegal sword-waving crowds of the mahapanchayat. (It would be perhaps worth remembering sudden burst of communal violence soon after JDU’s Nitish Kumar parted company with its partner in power in Bihar).

On its part, the corporate media has been concentrating more on the incidents of the rioting and the allegations against Mulayam Singh than going into the root cause in the run-up to the orgy of violence and killings–the fuel-to-fire role of an old video unrelated to the recent developments and, of course, the illegal mahapanchayat with participation of local BJP leaders and killing of three youths after a fracas and the counter-rally led by SP and others leaders.

The broader question flowing out of the Union Home Ministry’s alert to many States cannot be ignored amid the din and dust of the controversy on hand. This is the first warning of its kind to be sounded on the approach of elections– intelligence inputs indeed suggest murky goings-on behind the scene which require to be tracked to the source. There was time in the 1960s and 1970s when poll-rigging was the norm. The Election Commission has done the country proud by putting a stop to all that, ensuring free and fair elections and making the poll exercise above board.

Any attempt to spark communal flare-ups as a new weapon in the electoral armory is fraught with grave national risk and making a mockery of democratic polity and the rule of law. The States alerted include Haryana, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. It is clear that the Muslim vote or any other minority group can be taken for granted but only at the risk of the party doing so.

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