The BJP’s reliance on divisive politics over Kairana may end up strengthening the BSP.
After its thumping election victory in Assam, where it successfully managed to play the twin cards of development and polarisation (over the perceived threat from Bangladeshi migrants), the Bharatiya Janata Party can be excused for believing the ‘Kairana story’ will allow it do divide voters on religious lines in Uttar Pradesh in the same way that it believes the Muzaffarnagar riots did.
But in equating Kairana with Muzaffarnagar, or Uttar Pradesh with Assam, the party could just be making a huge mistake. It is once again trying to build up a situation of fear psychosis among the Hindus in the state by presenting the apparent out-migration of families from Kairana as one similar to the forced exodus of Hindus from Kashmir. Several right-leaning channels have been doing stories to build this argument.
Blinded by the urge to repeat its magical performance of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, in which it had won 71 of the 80 seats, what the BJP is overlooking is the fact that a tirade against the Muslims will prove counter-productive for the assembly elections due next year, .
At the BJP national executive meet, party president Amit Shah had also attacked the Akhilesh Yadav government for the way it handled the situation in Kairana. While ahead of the “year of challenges’’ – 2017 – Shah has been careful in his selection of words and names of communities while driving home the point, other party leaders have spoken their hearts out and not left an iota of doubt about where they stand on the issue.
Many of the party leaders have termed Kairana as a “Kashmir in the making”, giving the impression that Hindus are being deliberately driven out of there. At the forefront of this campaign has been BJP MP Hukum Singh who claimed that 346 families had moved out of the township as they feared a threat to their lives. The list contains the names of several persons who are dead or migrated in order to better their prospects.
In view of Singh’s allegations,however, the National Human Rights Commission had on June 9 ordered a probe into the alleged exodus of Hindus from the area due to fear of criminals belonging to the minority community. The party state unit announced on June 12 that an eight-member team, comprising four members of parliament, has been formed to probe the allegations. Subsequently, at the BJP national executive in Allahabad too it was announced that a team has been probed to investigate the issue.
While the issue has been covered at length by several news channels and it has indeed come to light that many Hindu families have migrated from Kairana, the reasons have been many.
The issue is more of a law and order problem than a communal one. The NHRC notice also made a mention of this aspect, when it said: “According to the complaint dated June 10, 2016, a woman belonging to Kashyap caste was abducted, gang-raped and killed, yet no action has been taken by the police against the offenders. Two of the businessmen, Shankar and Raju, both brothers, were shot dead by the criminals in broad daylight in the market when they did not pay protection money…”
Television crews who visited Kairana reported how many of the houses in several localities like Mohalla Kayasthwada, Jain Mohalla and even Teachers’ Colony were lying abandoned as their residents had moved out. Many of them also had sale signs or messages painted on them with contact numbers.
Most of the traders in Kairana spoke about ransom calls and notes becoming more common and police not acting on their complaints. Some even charged that their farms, shops and properties were being grabbed, but there was little or no confirmation of this. While a bullet mark outside the shop of Shiv Kumar and Rajender, both of whom who ran a successful iron rod business from Panipat Road and were killed in 2013, still bears testimony to the terror unleashed by gangs of extortionists, a close reading of the statements of their family members as also other traders reveals that the problem lies with the Akhilesh Yadav government’s poor handling of law and order rather than of any communal plot.
As a former employee of the brother duo said, the criminals would just leave behind a slip with the extortion demand and then kill to show that they meant business. While much of this is true, it is equally true that most of the Hindu families had left Kairana over a long period of time and even around 150 Muslim families have moved out of the township in search greener and safer pastures. Kairana has a few active gangs which not only extort from Hindus but also Muslims. Two of these gangs are led by Mukim Kala and Furqan, who are both in jail right now.
By giving a law and order situation a communal colour, the BJP is gambling on religious polarisation as a poll strategy. Not surprisingly, the Kairana discourse is creating a sense of insecurity among the Muslims in Uttar Pradesh. It is also taking the focus away from development issues, which the saffron party had earlier described as its main poll plank.
In the context of UP, it should be remembered that Dalits constitute about 21% of the population and Muslims about 19%. While one survey in 2014 suggested that about 10% of the state’s Muslims had voted for the BJP in the general election, the party’s reliance on divisive politics will not only cost it this new-found support but also end up brightening the chances of Mayawati, who this time around is hoping to be able to do a repeat of 2007 and that too without much of her famed social engineering.
Note: In an earlier version of this article, the 2014 election was erroneously described as the ‘2004 election’.