Listen to this article:
There is evidence to suggest that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with the help of his trusted associate Union home minister Amit Shah, has worked consistently to increase and utilise the prejudice of the majority communities against minorities.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) along with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its wings have provided the majority support, and the Hindu right has now effectively morphed itself into a well-oiled machine to stoke fear in the psyche of the majority communities against their fellow citizens from the largest minority community. This has been the success mantra of the saffron party, particularly after 2013-14.
On January 22, Shah went to Kairana in the Shamli district of western Uttar Pradesh to carry out a door-to-door campaign for his party. It has a sizeable Muslim population, and it appeared that Shah avoided the Muslim doors.
After getting down from his chopper, Shah straightway went to a Hindu colony. He then went to the Quila gate area and selectively met a couple of trader families including that of a sweet seller.
The sweetshop was a stone’s throw from the house of Nahid Hasan, sitting Kairana MLA and Samajwadi Party candidate for the same seat, and also other houses of Muslims. Hasan was arrested in the Gangster Act a week ahead of Shah’s visit.
This was Shah’s visit to Kairana for the first time after 2014. He told reporters, “I met the Mittal family. Eleven of them who had migrated have returned and are doing business. Those who were forced to migrate have come back in [Adityanath] Yogi’s regime. The government has delivered well on the law and order front.”
Playing the communal card again
Muzaffarnagar which is barely 50 kilometres from Kairana had witnessed communal riots in 2013, which had broken the ambience of bonhomie between the Hindus and Muslims living in the region for centuries. This atmosphere of communal tension and animosity provided traction to the BJP’s politics, especially in the 2014 elections.
This year too, Shah and the RSS-BJP cadres have made “Hindu exodus” the main issue. However, investigation by independent media houses found glaring discrepancies in the exodus claim, and found it to be exaggerated and false as many of the people had migrated for various reasons. AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi in 2016 had claimed that at least 50,000 Muslims migrated after the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots.
After the BJP secured victory in 2017, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath began talking about “exodus” more loudly, targeting the Muslims in the name of “cow protection” and “love jihad”. As per reports from human rights groups, between 2015 and 2018, at least 44 people were killed by radical cow protection groups; the victims were mostly Muslims. Also, Uttar Pradesh topped the list of states for cow-related violence. In 2018, the state reported 40% of deaths (four of 10) and 29% of attacks (six of 21) over cow-protection.
As of now, the Kairana-Muzaffarpur region which is going to the polls on February 10 and February 14 is relatively peaceful. The year-long farmers’ stir has played a major role in re-cementing the bond between Hindus and Muslims. Ground reports suggest that the people at large want to forget what happened in 2013-14 and live in peace and harmony.
On the same day as Shah’s Kairana visit, Adityanath – a louder protagonist of the Hindutva politics – campaigned in Aligarh and Bulandshahr. He said, “The party that got power in 2012 [Samajwadi Party] tried to create Kashmir-like situation in Uttar Pradesh by engineering an exodus from Kairana.”
The Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) spokesman and also a resident of Muzaffarnagar, Rakesh Tikait, said, “They [BJP] want to play Hindu-Muslim. But it is no longer an issue. Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Pakistan are ‘guests’ for two months; they will vanish after elections. The stories of Hindu-Muslim divide are ‘false’. The people will not vote them [BJP] this time around.”
Narendra Modi – a pioneer of the ‘symbolism’
In fact, Narendra Modi is the pioneer of the “symbolism” that stokes the Hindu-Muslim divide in election after elections.
While campaigning at Nawada (Bihar) in April 2014, when he was still the chief minister of Gujarat, Modi said, “Main Dwarka Nagri se aaya hoon aur meri Dwarka nagari ka Yadvon ke saath seedha seedha naata hain. Aur Yadavon ke saath naata hone ke karan mujhe apnapan mehsoos hona bohot swabhavik hain. Main hairaan hoon, ki yadvon, jo gau palan karta hain, jo gau ki seva karta hain woh kin logon ke saath baithe hain. Unke neta, kiske saath milkar ke rajneeti kar rahe hain? Woh log jo Hindustan mein pashuon ki katlen aam karne mein garv mehsoon karte hain. (I am from Dwarka and Dwarka has a direct connection with the Yadav community. Due to this connection, it is natural for me to feel at home here. I am surprised that the Yadavs who worship Sri Krishna, who keep cows and serve the cow, are with politicians who are in support of those who slaughter animals with pride.)”
Nawada, which is 57 kms south of Patna, has a big Yadav-Muslim population that constitutes the strength of the Rashtriya Janata Dal leader and Modi’s prime foe on Bihar turf, Lalu Prasad Yadav. But the region has also the presence of the RSS cadres for long. Modi’s speech which sounded innocuous then left on its trail many skirmishes between the Hindus and Muslims during the Dussehra festivals in 2014 and 2015. BJP’s Giriraj Singh, who was infamous for his anti-minorities rhetoric and who openly asked Muslims to “Pakistan jaao (go to Pakistan)”, had won the Nawada seat in 2014.
Will the ‘mantra’ work again?
The ‘mantra’ has worked more than anything else in successive elections – particularly in the Hindi heartland, also referred to as the ‘cow belt’ – since 2014. Unlike the “exodus” from Kairana, the exodus of four ministers and over 12 MLAs – all belonging to lower OBCs – from the BJP to the Samajwadi Party is talked about more in the political circles of UP.
The BJP is back with the issues – exodus, Kashmir, Jinnah and Pakistan – that are the prime sources of stoking fear and prejudice among the Hindus against Muslims with more ferocity. But hitting the ground and measuring the mood of the ordinary people spread over in several lower OBC and Dalit castes in the run up to the elections will enlighten us better about the outcome of the polls. They are the ordinary village dwellers in the vast ruralia of Uttar Pradesh who actually hold the key to the fate of the parties.
Nalin Verma is a senior journalist, author and professor of journalism and mass communication at Invertis University, Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh.