What is going on in Uttar Pradesh? The constitution of India, at least in principle, still applies to the state. No emergency has been imposed.
Yet its saffron-clad chief minister, with his career of toxic runaway hate mobilisation including raising a Hindu youth militia, is running the state like a Hindu Rashtra, reducing the constitution of India to a dead letter.
Running parallel to his open war against Muslims is a subterranean current of lower-caste intimidation and terror facilitated by his administration. Weeks after Adityanath became chief minister, Thakurs of his Rajput caste torched 50 Dalit homes to punish them for erecting a statue of Ambedkar in Saharanpur.
The recent brutal gang-rape and murder of a 19-year old Dalit girl in Hathras stirred the conscience of the nation not just for the numbing savagery of the attack, but because of the administration’s brazen bid to protect the alleged perpetrators of the Thakur caste and to shamefully crush the girl’s family.
Adityanath is a leader who flaunts his bigotry like a badge of honour. Never one to disguise his hatred for Indian Muslims, one of his first decisions after entering office was to crack down on the meat trade by closing ‘illegal’ slaughterhouses. His objective was to annihilate the livelihoods of poor Muslims engaged in the trade; he was indifferent to the collateral damage of lakhs of Dalits who also suffered gravely.
His speeches, animated with Islamophobia continue unabated, as does his weaponisation of law and the police for overtly majoritarian political ends. During the lockdown, several districts imposed a ‘ban’ on azaan, the Islamic call to prayer, which was later overturned by the Allahabad high court. Tablighi Jamaat members were quarantined for no scientific reason well beyond the prescribed 14 days, for several months, and many jailed.
After the bhoomi poojan at the foundation ceremony in Ayodhya, the chief minister made clear that as ‘a Yogi’ and ‘a Hindu’ he would not join the foundation-stone laying of the mosque whose construction was ordered by the Supreme Court on the other side of the river. He renamed the Mughal Museum in Agra, designed originally to celebrate the architectural achievements of the Mughal era, as the Chhatrapati Shivaji Museum. He asked, ‘ How can our heroes be Mughals?.’
The National Security Act empowers the government to jail a person for 12 months without an FIR to prevent him or her from acts prejudicial to national security and public order. 139 NSA cases were lodged by the UP police under Adityanath. While the chief secretary did not supply a breakdown by religion, reports have shown that under the Adityanath regime, it is predominantly Muslims against whom the NSA has been invoked. Seventy-six of those are imprisoned for cow slaughter. It is difficult to understand how anyone, who the government claims was involved in beef trade, could qualify for detention under this harsh law created to defend the country’s security.
Peaceful anti-CAA protests, which erupted all over the country in December last year, were met with the most violent police crackdown in Uttar Pradesh. The state imposed Section 144 in all districts rendering unlawful all street protests and invoked this to unleash brutal violence on peaceful protestors. Thousands were arrested and detained.
Hundreds of ordinary Muslims said that the police attacked them with batons, bullets, vandalising their homes, looting money and desecrating mosques. Twenty-three people were killed in the police crackdown – all Muslims – among whom 21 died of bullet injuries. Minor Muslim boys were arrested and released after months. The violence unleashed upon Muslims and protestors was celebrated by the chief minister as successful and resolute.
Adityanath openly declared that he would extract ‘revenge’ from the protestors for damage to public property. The administration in many districts then served notices to protestors for such alleged damages even before their guilt was established in courts of law.
In Lucknow alone, the UP government proceeded to recover 1.5 crore rupees from the protestors, mostly working-class and poor Muslims and some respected human rights defenders. The district administration started attaching properties of protestors. In early March, in Lucknow, hoardings appeared of protestors ostensibly to officially ‘shame’ them in public, even though peaceful protests are legal. No court had found them guilty of any crime. The UP government even defied orders of the high court, refusing for long to remove the posters. Activists and protesters including women were detained, manhandled and thrashed by the UP police.
From criminalising to effectively crushing, with brute force, the democratic anti-CAA protests, it is evident that the Adityanath administration provided the template that has since become a model for the Delhi Police, controlled by the Union home ministry. TheDelhiPolice criminalises the peaceful democratic protests as a sinister conspiracy to wage a terrorist insurrection. And now, after the Hathras outrage, UP applied the Delhi model on steroids, criminalising not only the Dalit woman’s family, but bizarrely, also protestors and journalists, linked to protests against the CAA and farmers’ bills, all part of an ‘international conspiracy‘!
How far the chief minister has travelled from the constitution is reflected also in his orders to officials to investigate into and prevent cases of ‘love jihad’, a poisonous Hindutva construction alleging ‘conspiracies’ by Muslim men to marry Hindu women and force them later to convert to Islam. With this, the line between Adityanath as a hate ideologue and the constitutional head of a government of all residents of Uttar Pradesh, including Muslims and Dalits residing in the state, has been completely erased. And for the police to consent without demur to investigate consensual adult relationships between people of different faiths marks their effective and willing merger into the chief minister’s Hindu militia.
What is ominous for the future of the Indian republic is the ease with the chief minister has transgressed dangerously, with impunity and cavalier defiance, the many boundaries laid down by the constitution. The Allahabad high court has alone on occasion offered some resistance. Most other institutions of the republic – the legislature, the police, the lower courts and most of the media – have fallen in line with the chief minister’s rampage.
Uttar Pradesh under Adityanath has opened a terrifying window into what India will become – and that also in the not too distant future – if the present rulers have their way in transforming all of India into a Hindu Rashtra.
Harsh Mander is a social worker and writer. Amitanshu Verma works at Karwan-e-Mohabbat. His interests lie at the intersection of political economy, Indian politics and equity.