THE RIOT WITHIN SP
Muzaffarnagar boomerangs on Samajwadi Party as Muslims and Jats both shun it in the aftermath of riots
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.
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( FROM LEFT) AZAM KHAN, MULAYAM SINGH YADAVAND AKHILESH YADAV