THE RIOT WITHIN SP

Muzaf­far­na­gar boomerangs on Sa­ma­jwadi Party as Mus­lims and Jats both shun it in the af­ter­math of ri­ots

India Today - - NATION - By Ashish Misra

At 10.45 a. m. on Septem­ber 23, Uttar Pradesh’s PWD min­is­ter Shiv­pal Ya­dav— bet­ter known as Sa­ma­jwadi Party ( SP) Pres­i­dent Mu­layam Singh Ya­dav’s younger brother— landed in Kandhla, a riot- hit vil­lage in Shamli dis­trict, to mol­lify the party’s large Mus­lim vote bank. But in­stead of be­ing wel­comed with open arms, as he had ex­pected, Shiv­pal was greeted at the Eidgah Relief Camp by an an­gry crowd wav­ing black flags. When Shiv­pal climbed onto a wooden stage that had been spe­cially con­structed for the visit, he was ac­cused of pay­ing lip ser­vice and the gov­ern­ment was ac­cused of mis­han­dling the Muzaf­far­na­gar ri­ots. “Bheekh nahi, ha­men haq chahiye ( We don’t want char­ity, we want rights),” the crowd chanted, not al­low­ing Shiv­pal to speak. Thirty fu­tile min­utes later, the min­is­ter was forced to leave the camp, be­fud­dled at how the party’s at­tempt to shore up its Mus­lim sup­port had back­fired so dra­mat­i­cally.

This was the sec­ond time in eight days that SP had faced the ire of the Mus­lim com­mu­nity. On Septem­ber 15, when Chief Min­is­ter Akhilesh Ya­dav had gone to Kawal vil­lage to meet Saleem Qureshi— the fa­ther of Shah­nawaz, whose fight with two Jat boys, Sachin Taliyan and Gau­rav Ku­mar, had first sparked the ri­ots on Au­gust 27— he had to be hur­riedly ush­ered through an an­gry mob which gath­ered out­side Qureshi’s house. The in­ci­dents in Kandhla and Kawal re­flect the feel­ing of the en­tire re­gion. De­spite SP’s at­tempts to project a pro- Mus­lim stance dur­ing the Muzaf­far­na­gar ri­ots, as ev­i­denced by a Head­lines To­day and Aaj Tak st­ing op­er­a­tion in which se­nior po­lice­men ad­mit­ted that they had been asked to go soft on Mus­lim ri­ot­ers, the com­mu­nity be­lieves it was ex­ploited by the party it helped re­turn to power in the 2012 As­sem­bly elec­tions. “Most of the vic­tims in the relief camps and among the ca­su­al­ties are Mus­lims,” says Askari Naqvi, a so­cial worker who has vis­ited six such camps in the Muzaf­far­na­gar and Shamli re­gion.

Voices of dis­sent are ris­ing within SP, stemming from fear that Mus­lim vot­ers, who con­sti­tute 18.5 per cent of the state’s to­tal elec­torate, and a much larger frac­tion in cer­tain pock­ets, may turn away from the party in the forth­com­ing Lok Sabha elec­tions. On Septem­ber 11, the first day of SP’s na­tional ex­ec­u­tive meet in Agra, se­nior lead­ers crit­i­cised the gov­ern­ment for not tak­ing proper ac­tion to con­trol the ri­ots. “Don’t give us lap­tops or un­em­ploy­ment dole, give us se­cu­rity,” thun­dered Abu Azmi, pres­i­dent of the party’s Ma­ha­rash­tra unit, who led the charge against the lead­er­ship. Azam Khan, UP’s mi­nor­ity wel­fare min­is­ter and the party’s Mus­lim face, stayed away from the meet­ing al­to­gether, say­ing he couldn’t be sit­ting in a fives­tar ho­tel at a time when peo­ple from his com­mu­nity were suf­fer­ing.

Maulana Tau­keer Raza, a leader from western UP who has been given the sta­tus of state min­is­ter, says Mus­lims are an­gry with the gov­ern­ment as they were the main vic­tims. Cleric Maulana Mah­mood Madani, gen­eral sec­re­tary of Jamiat- Ulama- iHind, which vir­tu­ally con­trols the Is­lamic sem­i­nary Darul Uloom at Deoband, has asked for the gov­ern­ment’s dis­missal. “The Akhilesh gov­ern­ment has no right to be in power. They say they’re well- wish­ers of Mus­lims but the fact is that Mus­lims are be­ing killed in their regime,” he says.

Ex­perts in Uttar Pradesh’s cryptic caste pol­i­tics say that a float­ing Mus­lim vote could up­set all elec­tion pro­jec­tions, par­tic­u­larly in pock­ets in the

west and the north- east where the com­mu­nity’s per­cent­ages swell from 25 to 40 per cent in some con­stituen­cies. If the anger against SP man­i­fests it­self for long enough, they say this vote could ei­ther grav­i­tate to­wards the Congress or even to­wards Mayawati’s Bahu­jan Sa­maj Party.

But what is mak­ing SP even more jit­tery is that the Mus­lim anger is mir­rored by the Jats, the other party in the Muzaf­far­na­gar ri­ots. Western UP, where the Jats con­sti­tute 12 to 18 per cent of the elec­torate, was once the strong­hold of the Rashtriya Lok Dal ( RLD). In the 2009 Lok Sabha elec­tions, RLD and its al­liance part­ner BJP had won nine of the 26 seats. “This time, RLD chief Ajit Singh has a part­ner­ship with the Congress. Mu­layam Singh Ya­dav thought that this com­bi­na­tion could harm his chances in the western dis­tricts so he wanted to get the Mus­lims on his side. But that move has clearly not paid off, leav­ing the party pos­si­bly alien­ated from both com­mu­ni­ties,” says politi­cian and jour­nal­ist Shahid Sid­diqui, who was ex­pelled by SP in 2012 for in­ter­view­ing Gu­jarat Chief Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi.

The dis­plea­sure of the Jats was clear when prom­i­nent leader Som­pal Shas­tri, who had de­feated Ajit Singh in Baghpat in 1998, shunned the SP nom­i­na­tion for the 2014 elec­tions on Septem­ber 15. “Be­fore the ri­ots, we were re­peat­edly try­ing to call our se­nior party lead­ers but no one took our call. Their reck­less ap­proach re­sulted in th­ese ri­ots. Now the po­lice is reg­is­ter­ing FIRs against in­no­cent peo­ple while the ac­tual cul­prits are roam­ing free. That is why I re­turned my Par­lia­ment elec­tion ticket,” Shas­tri says. Other Jat lead­ers, ex- MLAs Ma­hak Singh and Ajay Ku­mar, have re­signed from the party as well.

SP spokesper­son Ra­jen­dra Chaud­hary, a Jat leader from western UP, says th­ese res­ig­na­tions will have no im­pact on the party. But Mu­layam and Akhilesh are clearly in a slump— iso­lated from both sides and left lick­ing the wounds from a riot bat­tle they thought they had won.

Fol­low the writer on Twit­ter@ ashudj

MA­NEESH AG­NI­HOTRI/ www. in­di­a­to­day­im­ages. com

( FROM LEFT) AZAM KHAN, MU­LAYAM SINGH YA­DA­VAND AKHILESH YA­DAV

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