The Adityanath government has made its intentions clear. It wants to withdraw the pending cases against many senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders for their alleged role in provoking violence against Muslims during the 2013 communal riots in Muzaffarnagar, which left 63 dead and more than 50,000 displaced.
The move, which many have called a clear violation of the idea of justice, was communicated through a government letter to the district magistrate (DM) and senior superintendent of police (SSP), Muzaffarnagar, asking their opinion on the possibility of withdrawing Muzaffarnagar riot-related cases filed against BJP leaders in “public interest”.
It’s important to note here that the Adityanath government’s move came after Lok Sabha member Sanjeev Balyan, one of the BJP leaders booked for allegedly provoking the Hindu mob, asked the state government to withdraw the cases. Balyan had to surrender in a Muzaffarnagar court two weeks ago after a non-bailable warrant was issued against him for his failure to present himself.
In a letter – seen by The Wire – that Raj Singh, special secretary in the Uttar Pradesh Department of Justice, wrote on January 5, the DM and SSP were asked about details of nine criminal cases pending against BJP leaders in a Muzaffarnagar court. The letter does not mention names of the leaders, but it does refer to the file numbers related to the riot cases against them.
In the letter, Singh sought information from the two senior officials on 13 points, including facts about the people involved in the cases, evidence the prosecution has against them, logic the accused/applicant has put forward to support his withdrawal claim, the prosecution’s status report on available evidence and whether there is any merit in withdrawing the case.
Photo feature: Life After Muzaffarnagar
The district public prosecutor in Muzaffarnagar, Dushyant Tyagi, confirmed to the media that the district administration received such a letter from the state’s Department of Justice.
“The district administration got a letter from the state Department of Justice enquiring about the riot-related cases and if there was a possibility of withdrawing them. The response will be sent only after consultation with the judicial officers,” he told the media on Sunday.
The BJP leaders who stand to gain from the BJP government’s move include former Union minister and MP from Muzaffarnagar Balyan, MP from Bijnor Bhartendu Singh, cane development minister in Adityanath’s cabinet, MLA from Thana Bhawan constituency Suresh Rana, Budhana MLA Umesh Malik and party leader Sadhvi Prachi.
The leaders were charged with inciting violence through their speeches at a mahapanchayat (public meeting) in Nagla Mandaur on August 30, 2013, ahead of the riots. They were booked under Sections 188 (violating prohibitory orders), 354 (assault or criminal force to deter public servants from discharging his duty) and 341 (wrongful restraint) of the Indian Penal Code. The Nagla Mandaur mahapanchayat was one of the first public meetings which led to mobilisation before the riots in the first week of September 2013; many retaliatory mahapanchayats were subsequently held by both Muslims and Hindus.
The BJP leaders have always maintained that the cases against them are “politically motivated” and part of the “vendetta politics” of the then ruling Samajwadi Party government, which had also booked leaders from the Muslim community on similar charges.
As the news of possible relief to BJP leaders broke, Balyan told the media that he had written to state law minister Brijesh Pathak, telling him that “he thought all the cases were fake and trumped up” and hence should be “withdrawn”.
Without taking his own name, Balyan said, “The Samajwadi Party had filed many false cases against innocent people during the riots. That is why I had written a letter to state law minister Brijesh Pathak, telling him that all these cases were fake, with almost no solid evidence. I requested him that if a fresh probe shows trumped-up charges, then all these cases should be withdrawn.”
The cases against these BJP leaders have been moving extremely slowly. Most of them have failed to appear in court, forcing additional chief judicial magistrate of Muzaffarnagar Madhu Gupta to issue non-bailable warrant against them. Now, the cases are set to reach the crucial stage of the framing of charges.
The Adityanath government’s move has created a potentially large law and order problem. After finding out that the BJP leaders may go scot-free despite their alleged role in the communal riots, all khap panchayats of Jats, the dominant community whose members were the footsoldiers in the violence, held a meeting on Sunday (January 21). The khap leaders said that if the Adityanath government plans to withdraw riot cases against party leaders, then “it must also withdraw cases slapped on many Jat youths for murder, rape and violence”.
Naresh Tikait, leader of the most influential Baliyan khap, told The Wire, “The riots were organised by the political parties to mobilise and communally polarise votes ahead of the general elections. The decision of the Yogi government to withdraw riot cases against its party leaders shows its double standards and hypocrisy.”
“Leaders of all the prominent khaps in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli met and it is our unanimous demand that Yogi Adityanath must provide the same relief it is planning for its leaders to hundreds of Jat youths who are in jail. Otherwise it should not live in the illusion that we will stay calm. We will wage an anti-government movement if our demand is not met, starting with a big mahapanchayat,” added Tikait, who is also president of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, a politically influential farmers’ body.
Muslim residents of Muzaffarnagar, including many riot victims, have expressed dismay at the government’s move, saying that they will wear black ribbons on Republic Day if the government goes ahead with withdrawing cases.