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Open Letter to RSS PM-nominee Narendra Modi from a Bihari, Indian and Muslim

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 04 November 2013 | Posted in , , , , , , , , , ,

Dear Shri Narendra Modi ji,

HAPPY DIWALI to YOU and ALL MY COUNTRYMEN!! I decided to write this letter to you on this Special Day of Diwali. There's a specific purpose of writing this letter as I believe and hope that just like this festival spreads light and dispels the darkness of ignorance and acrimony, my appeal through this letter would enlighten millions of countrymen and bring sanity to your mother organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), sister organization Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and wisdom to You and all your actions.

Shri Narendra Modi ji, I am writing to you as a concerned and aggrieved Bihari, Indian and a Muslim. Modi ji, first of all accept my congratulations over being anointed as Prime Ministerial nominee of RSS. I don't consider you a nominee of BJP as the party didn't play active role in selecting you, but it is the RSS which played the important role in anointing you the Prime Ministerial candidate. To my knowledge this has happened for the first time in BJP's history that party patriarch Lal Krishna Advani and other senior leaders were completely sidelined and humiliated at the insistence of RSS with its direct and active participation in the electoral politics. To me and scores of Indians as well, BJP as a political party has ceased to exist as it has been completely usurped by RSS. This goes contrary to the very foundations and principles of RSS because it came into being as a cultural organization, and not a political one. The RSS has shunned direct participation in politics so far, but to utter dismay it has now decided to take in the plunge itself in 2014 parliamentary elections considering it a Do or Die battle knowing fully well that if it is not Now then it will be Never. The RSS fully acknowledges the fact that its political affiliate BJP has been out of power continuously for 10 years and can't afford to any further.

Shri Narendra Modi ji, I am not against you personally nor I am against the RSS or BJP for that matter. But I am completely against the communal politics that you, RSS and BJP have been continuously practicing creating strife and disharmony between the country's largest majority Hindus and the largest minority Muslims. I adore you for your administrative capabilities and the way in which you continue to bind Gujarati Hindus remarkably.

Modi ji, for You it's GUJARAT First and INDIA last!!

Shri Narendra Modi ji, I am addressing you as a BIHARI first. I have been closely observing You and your actions for the past several days now. After being dumped by your former ally Janata Dal (U) from the Bihar government after being together in power for 17 years, it's simply great that you finally succeeded in entering the state with a bang with your Hunkaar Rally. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was completely wrong in not letting you enter Bihar even though your BJP was a partner in the state government. But, entering Bihar at what cost?? Your presence in Bihar on October 27 was ominous and a bad omen for the state. The way in which BJP leaders continued to assure people from Hunkaar Rally podium that fire crackers and tyre bursts were taking place in the rally venue at Patna's Gandhi Maidan, while the fact being that low-intensity crude bomb blasts were actually taking place, spoke much about the (ill) intentions of your party's leaders. The bomb blasts at the Hunkaar Rally venue was highly condemnable, and the culprits whosoever they are be apprehended, tormented, brutalised and killed without any trial. Such attempts to disturb peace must be dealt with sternly. Having said this, I must also in the same breath say that the organizers of the rally chose to put the lives of lakhs of people at stake by not calling off the rally even though people were becoming victims of the blasts before their own eyes. One would simply say that the action of rally organizers was equally condemnable and questionable. It seemed that the organizers were of the firm belief and knew beforehand that the bombs had been planted only for the people and they were not going to be targeted or harmed in any way whatsoever. The onus of the security of the people also lies on the organizers of the Hunkaar Rally. What were the organizers and private security guards doing when bombs were planted across the rally venue? Did they turn blind eye towards all this or were they also complicit in the dastardly crime? Modi ji, You also need to investigate the matter at your end, while the NIA and state intelligence agencies should also probe the matter and question the organizers of the rally.

Shri Narendra Modi ji, it is rather sad and painful to see you acting as a typical, stone-hearted politician, who believes in dividing people and shedding crocodile tears. Modi ji, You seemed to have encouraged your partymen to hold Asthi Kalash Yatra of the seven people killed in bomb blasts at your Hunkaar Rally and chose to visit Bihar only after a few days to meet the kins of the deceased at their respective homes. I don't know whether You also visited the injured battling for their lives in the hospitals as this has not been reported by the media. Modi ji, being a leader who has now developed concerns for 1.27 billion Indians after being anointed RSS PM-nominee, you should have condemned the blasts from the Hunkaar Rally podium itself. Your visit to Bihar was simply classic and bore ominous portends. This is for the first time in the history of India that rightwing Hindu leaders continued to address a political-cum-election rally while bomb blasts were taking place at the rally venue and people were falling victims and rushed to the hospitals before the eyes of these very leaders. This has never happened in India so far.

Shri Narendra Modi ji, you have little or no love for the people of Bihar, or of Uttar Pradesh for that matter. Modi ji, you chose to announce Rs. 5 lakh compensation for the kins of the deceased. But is this enough? You should have offered jobs to the dependants of the deceased in your state Gujarat. But, we Biharis know you won't ever dare to do so. It seems you consider Biharis fool and better left to die or fend for themselves. Modi ji, it seems you also have enmity with the people of Bihar just like your allies Shiv Sena and Raj Thackeray of MNS in Maharashtra have. We, Biharis, were waiting to hear words of condemnation against Shiv Sena and Raj Thackeray for brutalizing and harassing Biharis and people of Uttar Pradesh in Maharashtra from the podium of Hunkaar Rally. But, you have let us down, and we are deeply saddened at this. Modi ji, this shows your enmity with the people of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, and your true love for Gujarat and Maharastra (for your history knowledge Gujarat was carved out of Maharshtra) as interests of both states are interlinked.

Shri Narendra Modi ji, you came to Bihar with an intention of dividing Biharis and seeking votes. You chose to briefly speak in Bhojpuri as if all Biharis speak in Bhojpuri. There are several dialects spoken in Bihar, and Bhojpuri is only one of them. Here's another classic case of how you attempted to divide Biharis. Modi ji, finding Lalu Prasad Yadav in jail you pounced on the opportunity to cajole Lalu Prasad's castemen Yadavs and assuring to take care of Yaduvanshis, the followers of Lord Krishna, if they voted you to power. However, even I believe that you just might succeed in this attempt with a large section of Yadav votes coming to your party in the forthcoming 2014 parliamentary elections. And, I have reasons to believe so. Lalu Prasad Yadav is miffed with the fact that Congress Party and Muslims have betrayed him. The Muslims are strongly backing Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and a majority of votes are likely to go in favor of Janata Dal (U). To settle scores with both Congress Party and Nitish Kumar, there are strong possibilities that a large number of Yadavs might choose to vote BJP during the general elections. Also, Lalu Prasad Yadav's party RJD's tacit understanding with BJP has been exposed. The RJD was seen aligning with the BJP during the bandh called by BJP to protest the Bodh-Gaya serial blasts in the Mahabodhi Temple Complex. Lalu Prasad Yadav during his chief ministership is known to have ditched Buddhists in their struggle to free Mahabodhi Temple Management Committee from Hindu domination and bringing it under complete control of Buddhists only. 

Shri Narendra Modi ji, it was quite ridiculous to see you asking poor Hindus and poor Muslims not to fight against each other from the podium of Hunkaar Rally. Modi ji, it's a great journey indeed for you -- from "Kutte ka Pilla" in Gujarat (dog's puppy, acronym given to 2002 Gujarat riot victims) to "Poor Muslims" in Bihar. Modi ji, it seems that you have accepted the fact that rich Hindus are behind all the communal conflict between poor Hindus and poor Muslims, and might even be spending money to broaden and intensify the conflict. A true statesman should have addressed all Hindus and Muslims, and not only poor Hindus and poor Muslims. But, habits die hard. For you the interests of six (6) crore Gujaratis is dear to your heart, and you merely remain a regional satrap, nothing more.

Shri Narendra Modi ji, you rightly remember your days of poverty and how you rose to dizzy heights from being a poor tea vendor at a railway station in your native place in Gujarat. But, it seems that even after rising to such great heights and adorning the chief ministerial chair of Gujarat for the third consecutive term (15 years) you are still lagging behind in your education and knowledge of history. Modi ji, you have got the history of Bihar all wrong. See, how poorly informed you are about the history of Bihar. Lauding Bihar's gem Chandragupta Maurya, you said that he belonged to Gupta Dynasty, while he belonged to Maurya Dynasty. Regarding Bihar's achievement in the field of education in yesteryears, you also cited the examples of Nalanda and Takshila. Everybody knows that Nalanda is in Bihar (it's native place of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar). But, Modi ji Takshila is in Pakistan. Does RSS still harbor the dreams of Akhand Bharat? Do you want to capture Pakistan again and assimilate it into India? You also said that Alexander (Sikandar) was defeated by brave Biharis on the banks of the Ganges, but the fact is that he was turned back from the banks of River Sutlej in Punjab. Modi ji, you need to learn history and get your lessons right. India cannot afford to have a Prime Minister like you, who doesn't know India's history properly. And, just see how the biased Indian media also chose to side with you and preferred not to debate your lack of knowledge of history on TV channels. In fact, the knowledge and education of leaders is a big issue which should be debated by the media. But, I know an important section of the biased, communal mainstream media won't do as paid journalism is currently at work. 

Modi ji, what is RSS and BJP up to??

Shri Narendra Modi ji, now I am addressing you as an Indian. Modi ji, see what You are up to in the run up to the 2014 parliamentary elections. You used to constantly harp on the development of Gujarat under your tenure. But, ever since you have been anointed as RSS PM-nominee, you have stopped talking about Gujarat's development and continuously focusing on implementing your pet communal agenda to polarise votes. It seems You, RSS and BJP are completely bereft of any development ideas for the people or country. For your mother organization RSS and your party BJP, the only issues are dress code, Vande Mataram, Surya Namaskar, Muslim population control, Hindu population growth, Uniform Civil Code, Abolition of Article 370 etc. These issues might have earlier won you elections, but I seriously doubt that with these core issues now at play You or your party is going to gain power at the Centre.

Modi ji, in your state a decision has recently been taken to regulate dress codes for teachers in Gujarat. The decision has evoked strong reactions from Muslims and is being seen as yet another RSS conspiracy to marginalize Muslims in the state. By the way, this decision is being exclusively forced on women teachers as if all the rules are meant to have been made for women alone. The teachers have been asked to wear Saris. I don't know whether the dress code is also applicable for male teachers and whether all the male teachers have been asked to wear 'Dhotis' or not. 

Modi ji, my colleague and Indian Muslim Observer Gujarat Bureau Chief Abdul Hafiz Lakhani recently sent a report saying that a communal profiling of Muslims is taking place in Gujarat. In one incident a Muslim teacher wearing a Salwar Kameez was stopped from attending the school and sent back home asking her to wear a Sari according to the recently promulgated dress code. The teacher however said that her parents wanted her to wear Salwar Kameez. This is only one instance of targeting and marginalising Muslims. Our colleague Abdul Hafiz Lakhani reported that one Ms. Zahira Momin went to R.H. Kapadia New High School in the satellite township of Ahmedabad to get her child admitted in pre-primary. The school however refused to give her admission saying that she was a Muslim. In fact, Ms. Zahira Momin had gone to the school only after seeing the advertisement placed in a local daily. In yet another instance of Muslim discrimination, the Himalaya Mall, one of the five biggest malls in Ahmedabad, charged a fee of Rs. 20 from Muslim visitors on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr saying that the amount would be returned to them only if they bought anything from the mall, and retained if they didn't. This shameful incident was also reported in the local newspapers. Modi ji, these are only few instances of Muslim discrimination. Many similar incidents can be cited as these abound in your state under your watch and ward.

Modi ji, why rules are only made for women. Why are males exempted from such rules and allowed to do as they wish? If female teachers are asked to wear Saris, then male teachers should also be asked to wear Dhotis. This is necessary to protect the Hindu identity as You and RSS have always wanted. After all, why do You always wear Kurta and churidaar Pyjama. This is essentially a Muslim dress mostly worn by Muslims. Your actions are hollow and you are only befooling Hindus in the name of protecting them from imaginary Muslim onslaught, which never exists after all. You should stop wearing the Muslim dress of Kurta and Pyjama and wear Dhoti to set an example amongst Hindus.

Modi ji, even RSS in its dress code seems to be Westernised. The Khaki shorts worn by RSS leaders and followers is Western and looks vulgar. Several RSS and BJP leaders have been more often giving sermons to young girls to stop exposing their bodies or wearing western dresses as this invites rape. But, what about RSS leaders and its followers wearing Khaki shorts and exposing their legs. Why most RSS leaders and followers shy away from asserting their Hindu identity by not wearing Dhotis? Does Bhartiyata (Indianness) means Ardh-Naganta (semi-nakedness)? Modi ji, please don't preach before practicing yourself, or else your actions would seem absurd, idiotic and fascist.

Modi ji, Your claims of being Hindu Nationalist questionable

Shri Narendra Modi ji, your claims of being a Hindu Nationalist is hollow and questionable. You have been abusing the UPA government of being weak and ineffective in tackling Pakistani LoC ceasefire violations and repeated Chinese incursions. Modi ji, I and most Muslims of India are ready to vote for you and bring the RSS-headed government to power at the Centre, but it is only on the condition that you dare to announce that within six (6) months in power your government is going to declare wars simultaneously on both Pakistan and China to reclaim the captured Indian territory. We, Indian Muslims, are ready to sacrifice our lives for the sake of our great and beloved motherland India. If you are a true Nationalist you should not shirk from this responsibility and fight full-fledged wars with both Pakistan and China and restore India's prestige and sovereignty. But, we know you are only a Paper Tiger whose roars are feeble, fake and manufactured.

Modi ji, Your attitude against Muslims have all along been hostile and full of enmity. Modi ji, when you come to power at the Centre (the chances though are quite slim and like 'Mungeri Lal ke haseen sapney'), we Muslims hope that you will stop importing oil from Muslim nations. After all, why should you import oil from Muslim nations whom you consider to be your adversary. We are ready to bear the brunt of even more inflation. A self-respecting, arrogant man like you should not bow or cower down before Muslim nations to get oil. If you do so, you will be considered as a leader who has no self-respect at all. Modi ji, you and your ally Shiv Sena and Raj Thackeray have more to answer for befooling the Indians. When India is in the midst of Onion crisis and onions are being imported from enemy nation of Pakistan and another Muslim nation Afghanistan, why didn't Shiv Sena and Raj Thackeray protest against this move and allowed onions to be imported to India. Shiv Sena and Raj Thackeray are both seen opposing Pakistan even at the slightest opportunity. Modi ji, after all whom are You and Your allies befooling??

Modi ji, The New York Times Editorial on your prospects is right

Shri Narendra Modi ji, the recent Editorial in The New York Times has rightly analysed your personality and what is expected of you when RSS comes to power. The New York Times rightly said: " His (Narendra Modi) rise to power is deeply troubling to many Indians, especially the country’s 138 million Muslims and its many other minorities. They worry he would exacerbate sectarian tensions that have subsided somewhat in the last decade." The editorial says that your strident Hindu nationalism has fueled public outrage. The New York Times editorial quoting Reuters said: "When Reuters asked him earlier this year if he regretted the killings in 2002, he said, if “someone else is driving a car and we’re sitting behind, even then if a puppy comes under the wheel, will it be painful or not? Of course it is.” That incendiary response created a political uproar and demands for an apology."

Modi ji, The New York Times said many other things about you. Modi ji, see how a foreign publication is casting aspersions and doubts over your ability to lead the Indian nation. And, just look at the timidity and biased attitude of Indian mainstream media who wanted to shield you and never debated the issue.

Modi ji, I and many others like me consider the United States of America a champion of human rights and flag bearer of human values worldwide. The U.S. government has been instrumental in ridding a number of Middle East nations from brutal dictators like Saddam Hussain and Muammar Gaddafi. The U.S. government is equally right in depriving you a visa for the past several years for the human rights violations that took place during 2002 Gujarat riots under your stewardship. The U.S. rightly acknowledges your leadership as a blot on human values and affirms your communal and divisive role. 

Modi ji, in the United States, UK and other European countries there are several instances of Muslims offering prayers in churches. There is a strong interfaith bond between Muslims and Christians in these countries. Modi ji, but see how You and Your party believe in demolishing Muslim and Christian places of worship in India. In fact, you deputed your colleague Amit Shah (himself an accused in Sohrabuddin Fake Encounter case) to Uttar Pradesh to build up campaign for 2014 parliamentary elections, which he did so by announcing to build a grand Ram Temple at the Babri Masjid demolition site, even though the matter is sub judice. Doesn't this expose your communal, extra-constitutional and divisive attitude?

Modi ji, You are not inclusive and unfit to lead India

Shri Narendra Modi ji, I greatly admire your partyman and colleague Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, whose state will be shortly going for assembly polls. It would not be surprising to see Shivraj Singh Chauhan ji returning to power for the consecutive third time with a landslide victory. Shivraj Singh Chauhan, who is known for his links with RSS, is loved by Hindus and Muslims alike. He has administered Madhya Pradesh well and Muslims are satisfied with his leadership, and prepared to return him to power once again with even bigger majority. Modi ji, but in your Gujarat Muslims voted for you only out of fear, and not love. There is a stark difference in the inclusive leadership of Shivraj Singh Chauhan and chauvinist, exclusivist, arrogant, dispassionate leadership of Narrendra Modi. In fact, Shivraj Singh Chauhan ji should have been chosen as the Prime Ministerial nominee. He is surely the best candidate to lead India at the moment on behalf of BJP.

Shri Narendra Modi ji, a person like you dreaming day in and day out of becoming Prime Minister of India should first of all know the country's history, which you are ignorant of as in the case of Bihar. Modi ji, you should first give more time to yourself, understand the people, make friends with India's minorities, change your entire persona and make it acceptable before the world, and then think of leading the country. Modi ji, let me assure you We Muslims are not your enemy. Our forefathers have chosen to live in India of their own accord and serve our great motherland devotedly. The enemy within you needs to die down. The moment we see a remarkable change in you, we will wholeheartedly accept you as our leader. Modi ji, you will have to take the initiative first and give the right message.

Respected Modi ji, I hope you won't mind, but seriously introspect on what all I felt and had to say. Let this Festival of Lights - Diwali - illuminate our hearts and minds and enlighten all Indians. Let this Festival of Light dispel the darkness of ignorance and vicious feelings amongst all of us. The Idea of India must be given a chance. Let us together build a prosperous, progressive and peaceful India, which becomes Superpower soon.

Yours Sincerely,

Danish Ahmad Khan

[Danish Ahmad Khan, a Journalist, is native of Gaya, Bihar and currently based in New Delhi. He is a keen political observer. As a social activist, he is passionately associated with The Gaya Muslim Orphanage, Cherki, a 96-year-old institution founded by his paternal grandfather Enayeth Khan in October 1917. He is presently Founder-Editor of India's First Online Muslim Newspaper IndianMuslimObserver.com. He can be contacted at danishkhan@indianmuslimobserver.com]

Narendra Modi's Sadbhavna Upvas camouflaged as a 'New Service' in official documents

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , ,

By Abdul Hafiz Lakhani

Ahmedabad: Believe it or not the high drama of Sadhbhavna Upvas was camouflaged as a ‘New Service’ in official documents .The question is was it Modi’s ‘New Service’ to buy skull caps with government money to create stereotyped Muslims appear in his meetings or is it much deeper. Such details will be released periodically under the heading of Kachcha Chittha (details of misdeeds) about Modi and his government in Gujarat.

ANHAD and other other civil society groups have joined hands together to ‘expose’ misleading facts about Modi.

A joint press statement said, We, Anhad and other secular organizations, strongly believe that our democracy and secularism is directly under threat. The spectre of the country’s descent into fascism stares at us. The long reign of the UPA has not halted or arrested the march of the communal fascist forces; indeed there seems today to be a greater acceptance of ideas that we would call fascist. The strident demands for death penalty , the impatience with rule of law; the acceptability among the young urban people of a man as a potential Prime Minister, under whose watch minorities were systematically targeted, this desire for a strong authoritarian leader, all again point to the circulation and reception of fascist ideas.

There have been several riots at least since last year across the country. On the one hand, one sees local-level riots engineering machinery gearing up, and on the other the cleansing and anointing of Modi as the development man.

The rise in the power of the middle class via a corporate media, which aggressively pushes the agenda of ‘corruption-free efficiency’ – whose poster boy is Narendra Modi – at the cost of issues of social justice, secularism and democracy movements, is further pushing the Indian polity towards the Right.

Modi is being projected nationally as a leader who is clean, charismatic and a visionary. An image of a new leader is being created by hired PR agencies and event management companies. The new leader is going to change the face of India and solve all problems. The facts show otherwise.

[Abdul Hafiz Lakhani is a senior Journalist based at Ahmedabad, Gujarat. He is associated with IndianMuslimObserver.com as Bureau Chief (Gujarat). He can be reached at lakhani63@yahoo.com or on his cell 09228746770]

Indian elections: Give peace a chance, don’t vote for Modi

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 06 October 2013 | Posted in , , ,

By Erum Shaikh

“Mr Prime Minister, the country wants to know – what is your priority? Is it national pride and respecting the blood of martyrs or is it to show eagerness to talk to Pakistan under pressure from other countries?”

This is how Narendra Modi addressed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in a rather patriotic (or jingoistic) bid demanding to know his priorities. With such pressure from the opposition, Manmohan Singh has quite clearly shown reservations in resuming talks with Pakistan. Modi went on to state,

“I want to ask you one question, when our soldiers and innocent citizens are being killed day and night; terrorists keep troubling us, killing our innocent people, in such a scenario is it not a hasty decision by central government to hold talks with Pakistani leaders.”

Welcome to our world – the daily life of a Pakistani revolves around terrorism, too Modi. I could spout conspiratorial rhetoric, claiming India is involved in the conflict in Balochistan and atrocities in Kashmir. However, I will not.

Let us be warned here, mixing patriotism with politics can be catastrophic. America and its mindless wars are ample evidence of this fact. With electoral madness taking over India, it is no surprise that patriotism is being used as a tool by many politicians. This, however, is dangerous and may obfuscate the long term significance of Pak-India ties through playing up short term misfortunes.

Surely the Indian people are smart enough to view jingoistic statements without the prism of patriotism blocking their view, and will be able to make decisions that will benefit India and will give the prospect of peace in the region a chance as well.

Nobody wants war.

With India’s general elections around the corner, predictions have already started rolling in that Narendra Modi is one of the most prominent candidates. A recent blog published in The Express Tribune gave a detailed biography of Modi all the way from his younger years as a ‘tea boy’ called Namo to his alleged marriage and chief ministerial regime in Gujarat.

The blog post praised his ability as a political maverick, able to out manoeuvre his political opponents. I, however, believe there is no real neutral platform from which to view Modi, especially since he assumes an anti-Pakistan stance and most probably, anti-Muslim as well.

Modi, for whatever reasons, seems to have gotten the short end of the stick with regards to a lack of faith from the Indian Muslim community. As per my guess, the Gujarat riots and the Ahmedabad massacre may have something to do with this, among other things

Then again, India’s internal affairs are none of our business. In the same way, Pakistan’s internal affairs should be of no concern to India either. They should have no affect on peace talks between the two countries.

Modi’s recent statement against the two prime ministers meeting only exemplifies what the future, under his regime, may look like for the region.

Historically, it can be seen that Pakistan under Nawaz Sharif has made many efforts in resuming peace-talks with India. He has advocated at multiple times to increase cross-border relations between the two rival nations, and citizens here maintain that Pak-India relations, if amicable, would help people in India, Pakistan, Kashmir and to some extent even Afghanistan. To maintain peace in the subcontinent and the entire South Asian region, it is important to establish better, if not great, geopolitical relations with India, and we have taken all the necessary steps to pursue this prospect.

For Modi, however, making statements such as the ones below do not help the cause of any of its neighbouring countries.

“Pakistan captures a large number of fishermen off Gujarat coast and keeps them in jail for six months to one year. They torture them. This tradition is now being followed by Sri Lanka. The problem is not in the seas but with the centre (within India).”

“The main reason for such a scenario is that neighboring countries take India for granted. It is the main cause of all these problems.”

India is not the only victim.

Unfortunately, Pakistan has seen a high rise in terrorist activity within the country which, in my opinion, is a result of the imbalance in the geopolitical scenario within the entire continent. The so-called War on Terror, the politically-correct, yet diplomatically linear involvement of the United Nations, the ego-battle between India and Pakistan, and political discontent in the country are all factors that have contributed to the disgruntled state this region is in.

However, pointing fingers and playing the blame-game, that we have been doing for decades now, really cannot continue. The scenario really is simple – if peace is required in this region, India and Pakistan, have to do it themselves. It has been over 65 years since the Kashmir issue, and the United Nations continues to dilly-dally.

Egos have to be put aside and baseless statements such as ‘Pakistan breeds terrorists’ or ‘India is involved in Balochistan’ have to go. Unfortunately, at this point, it seems that the efforts being brought about are unilateral, with India still stuck in a rut against Pakistan.

In my opinion, after being targeted repeatedly by Modi, Manmohan Singh succumbed to the pressure and made a statement at the United Nations meeting, warning Pakistan to refrain from becoming the ‘epicentre of terrorism’. As premier of a democratic nation, this statement was made in bad taste.

It is deeply disconcerting to see that Pakistan is played around with as a pawn on a chess board by Indian politicians. During Nawaz Sharif’s previous premiership, relations between the two countries spiralled out of control due to unannounced interference in Kargil by General Pervez Musharraf.

Understandably, peace-talks were halted and soldiers were deployed at the borders. However, in later times, around 2005, Mr Singh invited General Musharraf to the country for a cricket match, in which it was decided that peace-talks between the nations were ‘irreversible’; only to be reversed, yet again, after the Mumbai attacks.

Having taken on peace-talks with the same person who was the cause for conflict earlier just goes to show that India was ready to move on and so was Pakistan. However, this also goes to show that India can disregard previous ‘indiscretions’ at their convenience and bring them to the foreground as and when they please.

The past is something that cannot be changed, all we can do now is move forward and it is for India now to decide whether it really is an advocate of peace, as it has maintained in the past, or not.

It is unfortunate that Manmohan Singh’s regime is now coming to an end, as I believe that his determination with respect to maintaining peace with Pakistan is still more honest than what seems to be coming next.

Defensive strategies, such as those suggested by Modi and in recent times Singh maintaining that they are ready to use force to ensure stability, will neither help the universal cause of peace, nor will it benefit the world to watch these two highly immature siblings pull at each other’s hair in a battle of whose horse is bigger. The world, including India and Pakistan, is well aware of the military capabilities each of these countries posses. There is no point in arm-wrestling it out to show the world who outdid who and resorting to reduce absolute idiocy that may spark, what might lead inadvertently to, the third world war.

Modi’s stance plays a significant persuasive role in determining the future for Indo-Pak relations. What must be realised, however, is that Pakistan is not Gujarat, Ahmedabad or Babri Masjid- and if push comes to shove, it will do what it has to do to protect itself as well from any threat.

However, is that really what we want? Another war?

There are too many nations involved in our relationship now and this war will be one that involves everyone. War is not the answer, the people of both countries realise that — it is time the politicians do too.

I just hope that during these elections, the Indian population does what’s best for India and more importantly the world at large. Your decision will affect the world, don’t forget that. There is enough terror, and peace seems to have an ‘exclusive membership only’ policy. We have the ability to be great together – let’s not jeopardise our chances before the process is even started.

Give peace a chance. Don’t vote for Modi.

[Erum Shaikh is a sub-editor on the web desk of The Express Tribune and has an Undergraduate Degree in Law from the University of London. She tweets @shaikherum]

(Courtesy: The Express Tribune)

Right to Reject verdict: With NOTA electing 'lesser of the two evils' should now be passe

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , ,

By Abdul Hafiz Lakhani

Ahmedbad: Now all those who do not vote, because they find the candidates hopeless, can show their disapproval of all of them – while remaining part of the electoral process? If this (NOTA) option gets more votes than any of the candidates, then no candidate should be declared elected. Fresh elections should be held with new candidates.

Hailing Supreme Court’s judgment of introducing ‘None Of The Above’ (NOTA) button on Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), city-based activists and leaders have said that the availability of this option liberates the voter from being cornered into picking “lesser of the two evils”.

It also empowers them to show their disapproval of all candidates, and at the same time, is a step towards a more democratic system and not a solution in itself.

Prominent civil and human rights activist Prof. J. S. Bandukwala while talking to this Correspondent says, "Right to reject, also called negative vote, was a result of frustration among enlightened citizens on the poor quality of candidates available at election time. My colleague Rohit Prajapati played an important part in this drive. One can ask why we cannot get good candidates, right from Lok Sabha down to Municipalities and Panchayats? Remember there was a time about 90 years ago, when the Sardar Patel was the President of the Ahmedabad Municipality, and Jawaharlal headed the Allahabad Municipality. Towering figures like Feroze Shah Mehta led the Bombay Municipal Corporation. Where did we go wrong? The answer lies in the web of our evolution as a society. Hundred years ago there were hardly any options for people of talent and ambition, other than to go for law or politics. Industry and business were at a premitive stage. The best minds saw Municipality as a spring board to a future in politics.

"This lasted upto independence. We had a galaxy of leaders of the highest calibre. Then a revolution in ethics and morality occured. There was great money and fame to be made in politics, provided you had one foot in industry or business. Gandhian simplicity collapsed, except for the use of old Ambassador cars. Lutyens Delhi became the ultimate symbol of achievement. It was only a matter of time before fathers/mothers groomed their progeny to take over the mantle whether in politics or business. The reign of power was too important to be handed over to an a rank outsider. The dynasty system began and spread to all parties (with the exception of the Communists), and sadly even infected NGO, corporate leaders, trade unions etc.

"That closed the doors for people of talent. Worst it brought in a system of mass corruption as the 'dynasty' had to win elections for the progeny. In most cases they were not up to the mark in terms of service to society and the country. That required more and more money had to be spent to "elect" the prince.

"In this situation of cynicism and anger, many bright and dedicated people thought it best to alter the system. One approach was to give voters a negative vote. The voter goes upto the booth, but instead of endorsing one candidate, he just rejects all of them. If the rejected numbers are substantial, it immediately would deligitamize the winning candidate. However, it should be noted that there is a vast difference between a negative vote and not voting at all. The hope is that such a phenomenon at the national level would force poiltical parties to search for better candidates and spend less money at election time. I admit this is a hope . But if coupled with the Supreme Court's stand against corrupt /criminal leaders , may help us turn a new leaf."

Mallika Sarabhai, a noted danseuse and social activist, said the announcement is “great news”. She said, “Now all those who do not vote, because they find the candidates hopeless, can show their disapproval of all of them – while remaining part of the electoral process. The next step is to recall an elected official for corruption or dereliction of duty.”

Advocate and founder of NGO Jan Sangharsh Manch, Mukul Sinha, said that the move will bring to light bad choices made by political parties. “A party will have to think hard before declaring a candidate, as they cannot get away with picking just anyone,” said Sinha. “The voter’s hand has been strengthened now. As it (NOTA) encourages people to come forth and pick neither party, the number fo such voters will also show incumbency among candidates,” he said. The move will also make voters more active players in the process of elections.

Noted civil rights activist and lawyer, Girish Patel, echoed similar views. “People choose to not vote for many reasons. But with this judgement, at least those voters that do not vote due to unacceptable candidates will no longer be absentees at the poll booth. I too used to be part of this,” said Patel. “In addition, if many such non-voters turn up, which is a possibility, then it can serve as a good warning to the party that their choice of candidate was wrong.”

But the outcome of the NOTA option would depend greatly on details of its implementation, believes Prof Jagdeep Chhokar, former dean of IIMA and founder of Association of Democratic Reforms. “The number of NOTA votes cast should be counted during polls, and if this option gets more votes than any of the candidates, then no candidate should be declared elected. Fresh elections should be held with new candidates. This was we would maximum benefit from the judgement,” said Chhokar.

[Abdul Hafiz Lakhani is a senior Journalist based at Ahmedabad, Gujarat. He is associated with IndianMuslimObserver.com as Bureau Chief (Gujarat). He can be reached at lakhani63@yahoo.com or on his cell 09228746770]

Demand for Communal and Targetted Violence Prevention Bill at National Integration Council Meeting

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 24 September 2013 | Posted in , , , ,

Kandhamal justice and Karnataka rising persecution of Christians raised; call for SC rights to Dalit Christians

[The following is the text of the statement by All India Christian Council Secretary General Dr. John Dayal in the meeting of the National Integration Council, held on 23rd September 2013 at Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi and presided over by the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh. Dr. Dayal called for the enactment of a Communal and Targetted Violence Prevention Act. He also called for fresh investigation and trial of murder cases in Kandhamal in 2008, and Scheduled Caste rights for Dalit Christians. Dr. Dayal brought to the attention of the Prime Minister and the NIC the rising trend of persecution of Christians in the rural areas of Karnataka in recent months].

Honourable Prime Minister, Honourable Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, Honourable Union Ministers, Chief Ministers and other Members.

Greetings from my community and my organisation, the All India Christian Council, which was founded in 1998 in the wake of large-scale persecution of our community in several parts of the community at the hands of misguided fringe elements of a militant right wing fundamentalist and hyper-nationalist organisation that seeks to convert this secular democracy into some sort of a mono culture theocracy.

Thank you, Prime Minister, Sir, for convening this meeting, but after such a long gap. A meeting of the NIC, of course, is not a panacea for the violence against, and general persecution of, religious minorities, Dalits, Tribals and other marginalised people. But frequent meetings – at least once a year would be the bare minimum – would send a signal to the victim groups that the nation at large, present here in the presence of the leaders of the Union and State governments, had not forgotten them, was deeply concerned about them, and was determined to end their trauma and restore them to a life of peace and happiness.

In recent days, I have once again witnessed the aftermath of targetted mass violence. I was part of a Fact Finding group organised by the Centre for Policy Analysis, which a week ago visited Muzaffarnagar, and in particular its villages, make-shift refugee camps, burnt out mosques and its despairing people. Earlier, at a People’s Tribunal in Bangalore, victims and witnesses told us of the widespread persecution of Christians in the villages of Karnataka since 2008, attacks on small and home churches and the molestation of women, which was continuing.

Muzaffarnagar and Kandhamal, Odisha, in 2008 have striking parallels – the spread of violence to the villages through a sustained hate campaign carried out by extremist political vested interest, and the involvement of politicians.

Anti-Christian violence is also visible in Andhra, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and specially Madhya Pradesh. Karnataka is now reporting an anti Christian acts of violence every third day. In all cases, the police look on passively, or was itself complicit in the violence. Senior officers chose to remain deaf to the warnings of growing communalism and tension, and imminence of violence.

Both Kandhamal, 2008, and Muzaffarnagar, 2013, saw large scale attacks on places of religious worship in the villages. There was massive internal displacement, with village upon village purged of all presence of the minority communities. Police and governance systems were found wanting before, during and after the violence. In both cases conditions in refugee camps were dismal and inhuman. And in both cases, killers and fomenters of violence roamed about free, taming both victim and police.


 Kandhamal has also seen a gross miscarriage of justice and extremely tardy and incomplete rehabilitation and reparations. In 32 of the murder cases – the total according to the survivors is more than 100 – there have been only two convictions. An MLA accused in nine of these cases and convicted in one is roaming free on bail in a highly questionable judicial decision.

It is no surprise therefore to go through the agenda of this meeting of the NIC, and learn from it that there has been a steady rise in recent years in the number of communal violence cases, and the number of dead and injured. We learn there were 640 cases of actual violence and 716 of communal tension in 2012, which left 2012 killed and 2,129 injured across the country. In the nine months of 2013, we have already seen almost 490 cases of violence and 433 cases of tension, with 152 injured. These are including the separate figures given for Assam and the North East. These figures do not reflect the cases of anti Christian violence. The police for their own reasons do not register them under the “communal” heading.

These call for urgent action. Short term response from the government and long term correctives which have still not been put into place after more than six decades of experience with communal violence need to be devised and activated,

SUGGESTIONS:


1. The long-term solution is to have a comprehensive and effective Act against Communal and Targetted Violence, which favours the victim and has a national Code to standardize the current Relief, Rehabilitation and Reparation. Impunity must end, and officials must be held accountable. I was part of the last exercise under the National Advisory Council to formulate such a Bill. I was a witness when the draft Bill was targetted and all but destroyed in the last meeting of the NIC by some States and political leaders. The Union government did not intervene at any stage to disclose its mind. Civil society feels this Bill is imperative if communal violence and its aftermath are to be averted, and victims rehabilitated with human dignity. The Bill was not against any particular community. Nor was it meant to encroach on federal values. With the protection of victim at the centre, and as the reason, of its theme and jurisdiction, Civil Society is willing to listen to governments and other stakeholders to device an acceptable version of the Communal and Targetted Violence [Relief, Rehabilitation and Reparation Bill] which is implementable and which will punish the guilty and hold police and civil officials responsible for their actions, or their failure to act.

It is also important that:

2. The guilty are arrested, including those who were part of the hate campaign by spreading rumours an false information through posters, word of mouth and social media

3. Government identify and prosecute and stop those involved in communalizing and radicalizing innocent people, specially in the villages by perverted concepts of identity formation.

4. Government Provide adequate and well equipped and well trained police with arms and communication equipment and transport in communally sensitive villages. There must be some code of postings to ensure that police are biased in favour of their own community.

5. Government ensure Rapid action police at block level

6. Government hold village panchayat leaders culpable for communal violence in their region, and hold block and district senior officers of the police and administration, similarly, responsible for the occurrence of communal violence.


7. At the state and national level, police reforms and training continue to be a work in progress, and progress is exceedingly slow. Ensure commensurate presence of minority and marginalised in police forces.

8. In Muzaffarnagar, ensure government takes over all relief camps and makes them humane with adequate security, medical relief especially for women and children including newborn babies, with adequate provisions and sanitation. The survivors must understand they are under the government’s protection and care.

9. Ensure that detailed FIRs are registered and the crimes investigated painstakingly with adequate modern forensic scientific methodology, supervised by senior police officers, and tried in special courts so that justice is swift. There must be witness protection in place.

10. Every internally displaced person must be resettled in his or her home village with a sense of security and compensated adequately to rebuild his and her home and life. If required, employment must be provided. Special care must be taken for the rehabilitation of women victims of gender violence.

11. In Karnataka and other states, ensure that violence against Home churches, Pastors and others is registered and investigated as an act of communal violence.

12. In Kandhamal, ensure fresh investigation of all murder cases by trained investigating officers, followed by fresh trials of these cases. Witness protection systems must be put into place to reassure victims and survivors. Government must also help survivors rebuild their lives, and provide jobs to those now forced to work in distant places as casual labour.

The Christian community has been distressed at the government attitude to their demand that Dalit Christians be given the same rights as are given to Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh Dalits. In affirmative action, there cannot be any discrimination on basis of religion. Government must issue an ordinance to remove Article 341 Paragraph 3 as soon as possible.

Government must also ensure an end to the so called Freedom of Religion Acts in some states which encourage extremist and fundamentalist elements to harass, torment and persecute innocent Christians.

Thank you

Dr. JOHN DAYAL

[John Dayal is Secretary General of All India Christian Council, New Delhi. He can be contacted at john.dayal@gmail.com. His works can also be seen on his website at www.JohnDayal.com]

ANALYSIS: 'Narendra Modi is a man who is seen to deliver irrespective of the cost '

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 22 September 2013 | Posted in , , , , , ,

By Abdul Hafiz Lakhani

Ahmedabad: Whether we like it or not, the fact is that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has after all taken a giant step to 7 Race Course Road after crushing the opposition of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stalwarts and on the specific directives of the nationalist Hindu right wing organisation and BJP's parent Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) when BJP chief Rajnath Singh, much like a dutiful son, formally announced Modi's name as party's Prime Ministerial candidate for the ensuing 2014 Lok Sabha election. What is significant and simply cannot be brushed under the carpet is that it is for the first time ever in the history of independent India the rabidly anti-Muslim, communal organization RSS has directlly thrown its hat in parliamentary election ring through its proxy candidate Narendra Modi, who doesn't feel shy in being at the doorsteps of RSS every now and then. For RSS and its sister organizations like BJP, VHP, Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena and others, the currrent parliamentary elections is a do or die battle. For them, the simple motto is NOW or NEVER. The BJP has been out of power for nearly 10 years now, and it cannot afford being out of pwer anymore. The already vertically-divided BJP and its chief patron RSS fear that if they don't return to power by hook or crook, then their very existence will be at stake.

It is absolutely wrong to assume that BJP is still at the helm of affairs. On the contrary, it is the RSS that is calling the shots and has indeed overtaken the BJP in this forthcoming election and is directly fighting elections with BJP as its mask. Being another faithful son Modi is fully committed to RSS ideology, perhaps he is slight ahead of his guru L.K. Advani, now the eternal rebel who has been left sulking seeing his long-held Prime Ministerial dreams being dashed miserably before his own eyes.

The BJP had ruled India in the past, but was not able to saffronise the country fully. However, the elevation of Modi as party's PM candidate has once again raised renewed hopes, and at the same time raised several unanswered questions that have long term implications for the already fragile communal harmony and overall well being of India. After all, why would it be different if Narendra Modi ever becomes the next Prime Minister of India with the BJP having a majority of its own in the parliament?

Actually, Modi is confronted with many challenges. For him it's the issue of being between the devil and deep blue sea. With the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) setting crucial preconditions and thrusting every decision down his throat, the dominance of one leader in the BJP is passe. It reinforces the Hindutva ideology even more and effectively symbolises the dictatorial style of functioning of the RSS. It also highlights RSS confidence in Modi and the belief that once you appoint a leader you have to have complete faith in his actions. This has been completely lacking in BJP patriarch Lal Krishna Advani and another BJP ideologue Jaswant Singh after both of them praised Pakistan founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah for being secular, whose ideology the BJP had constantly battled ever since the partition of the subcontinent.

And, Modi is a firm believer of this concept. This combined with his natural stubbornness — a quality that has no doubt helped him reach where he is — may pose the biggest problem for him in his ambition to be the next Prime Minister. To begin with, Gujarat is not India, and Modi knows tis only too well.

Hence the biggest challenge for him will be to ensure that he brings together the varied interest groups to build up a coalition. For Modi, BJP gaining a two-third majority or a simple majority is a distant dream.

From his RSS days, Modi has known how to get his way. Modi the politician is astute in gauging who will aid his plans and who will not. He is also notorious for leaving behind those who are of no use to him. Even as he is criticised about his autocratic style of functioning, this same quality in him is what appeals to the youth. In Modi, they see a man who delivers irrespective of the cost. But his uncompromising nature may not be of much use in building bridges for the party.


He has so far worked with the RSS and BJP. These organisations have more or less similar styles of functioning, but working towards building a coalition of parties with each fighting for its own agenda will be the true test of his ability to compromise. Here, he is better advised to follow Atal Behari Vajpayee than his mentor LK Advani.

To give him credit, Modi has shown an ambition that few BJP or RSS leaders in Gujarat have ever shown. Most of them were happy to win a state for the party and rest on the laurels. Even if they ever had an ambition to go beyond the borders of the state, they rarely displayed it. And few ever had the appetite to make it big, the way Modi has. It all boils down to a can-do attitude.

The battle has only begun for the BJP, a party that has almost no presence in the North-East and is minimal in southern India. The party is in power in some states, but the popularity of its CMs will not be enough to help it install a prime minister of its own choice in Delhi. But, more importantly the Indians of all hues need to decide whether they are going to vote for the rabidly communal, RSS-BJP combine or the secular, humane Congress Party which has managed the country and its people so well. It is only on the decision of the sane Indian public that India will be able to progress and be prosperous, or else the fate of Indian nation is doomed under RSS-BJP dispensation.

The reactions of some prominent Gujaratis is indicative of what lies in store for the Muslims, Christians and other minorities if RSS-BJP combine is elected to power.

Zuber Gopalani, an academician, says that In Gujarat Muslims are clearly discriminated against. "If we look into the government schemes, a number of schemes except those related to minorities have been implemented. There are schemes in which economical backward class have benefited, but what about Muslims who are being contantly deprived of these. Muslim officers are being sidelined in IPS, IRS, IAS, GAS cadre," he said.


"Even in Gujarat, how many Muslim officers are on key positions in spite of their ability, capability and sincerity. Land of Muslims are being grabbed, Muslim NGOs have been put on radar, Muslim institutions are being harassed, sectarian riots among Muslim sects, Muslim organisations being deprived of government land - these are some of the peculiar hallmarks of Narendra Modi government in Gujarat," said Gopalani.

Prof. J. S. Bandukwala, prominent human and civil rights activist, opined that the elevation of Narendra Modi as the BJP's Prime Minister candidate is a cause of serious concern for the Muslims of India.

"Modi is obssessed with the Prime Ministership. He is a ruthless political operator, who will go to any extent to secure his goals. The RSS has backed him totally, and in return he has accepted the Hindutva platform of building the Ayodhya temple, abolishing Article 370, Uniform Civil Code and a total ban on cow slaughter. All these issues will bring him in a direct clash with Muslims. Modi can succeed by polarising Hindus against Muslims. Muzaffarnagar-type incidents will be repeated in non-BJP ruled states, such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh," said Prof. Bandukwala.

"Muslims may pay a heavy price in the next few months. Yet much may depend on three factors: (1) Corporate support for Modi may weaken, because big business cannot afford widespread communal riots. It hurts their interests. (2) The economy may improve, the rupee may strengthen and employment opportunities may increase. This is likely as we have had a good monsoon, and the economies of the US, Europe, China and Japan are in an upswing. This will improve the situation in India, and conversewly weaken Modi. (3) Finally much would depend on the average Hindus of the country," pointed out Prof. Bandukwala.

"If they see through Modi's hate politics and media, internet hype build up, Modi will be finished. Muslims must strive to maintain calm, yet be vigilant. Muslim leaders must be most balanced and composed in their public expressions. As far as possible do not give Modi a chance to whip up passions against Muslims," said Prof. Bandukwala.

Social activist and 2002 Gujarat riot victim, Zakia Jafri, was not happy with the BJP's choice. "It is the BJP's decision, obviously I don't feel good about it. He was involved in the 2002 riots," she told this Correspondent.

Mufti Rizwan Tarapuri, All India Milli Council, Gujarat, who was recently accused of backing Modi during his U.S. visit, said that Modi's elevation was no surprise, especially after he got blessings of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP's ideological fountainhead. "I doubt if he can win the polls (for the BJP). I doubt he will have acceptability in the whole country. In a country like India, with its vast ethnic diversity, people have always backed 'an inclusive leader', said Tarapuri.

[Abdul Hafiz Lakhani is a senior Journalist based at Ahmedabad, Gujarat. He is associated with IndianMuslimObserver.com as Bureau Chief (Gujarat). He can be reached at lakhani63@yahoo.com or on his cell 09228746770]

Fact Finding Report by Civil Society on Muzaffarnagar Violence 2013

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , , , , ,

[This fact-finding exercise was coordinated by the Centre for Policy Analysis. Team members comprised human rights activist and former civil servant Harsh Mander, former Director-General of the Border Security Force, E N Rammohan, Professor Kamal Mitra Chenoy of Jawaharlal Nehru University, National Integration Council member John Dayal, senior journalist Sukumar Muralidharan and CPA Director and senior editor Seema Mustafa. This report was sent on September 17, 2013.]

Muzaffarnagar 2013: Violence by Political Design

Introduction and Overview

The first impression of the Muzaffarnagar countryside, now green with the sugarcane ripening for harvest, is of utter desolation. Villages are tense with fear. Kasbas and hamlets are purged of their Muslim presence and the Hindu quarters have also emptied out in a self-imposed curfew even at midday, as women and children peep out from behind closed doors and windows, their menfolk having fled to avoid arrest as criminal complaints are made out against them. Fear is in the air. The atmosphere reeks of embitterment and betrayed trust, with neighbour now unwilling to trust neighbour, and apprehensive of ever returning to their accustomed lives. All the evidence points towards people who were forced to flee their habitations in sheer terror and seek out the safety of gathering among others of their own faith, occupying any vacant space in areas where they could be sure of not being targets just because of who they were.

“We will never go back to our villages”, say Muslim women refugees in a makeshift camp in the tehsil town of Budhana, some twenty kilometres from Muzaffarnagar. They are among two thousand five hundred men, women and children who fled their villages to seek safety in the town, among members of their own community. In the blazing post-monsoon heat, they are camped under a shamiana, where local community organisations scrape together the means to feed them twice a day. An open drain runs nearby, fetid with stagnant water. There is no water source and no doctor or health-care worker has visited them in the week that they have been there. The sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) visited them close to a week since they were uprooted from their villages. Police patrols are at a distance and seem mostly static. There is a clear message that is held out to them: that they can only call upon members of their own community for sustenance and assistance in this hour of dire need.
Though the Home Secretary in the Government of Uttar Pradesh has claimed that those displaced from their villages had been sheltered in state-run camps, there was a conspicuous absence of any official at the Budhana camps. Sanitation seemed to be the least priority since meeting the basic needs of food was itself a challenge.

Inmates of the camp spoke of being attacked without warning with seeming intent to terrorise and drive them out of their villages. Several among them reported being sundered from their families and not knowing their whereabouts. A week into the violence, hopes were fading of ever finding those missing alive.

There were complaints of milk being unavailable for the many children in the camp, though nobody really spoke of a food scarcity. For those of the Muslim faith in Budhana, it was a matter of honour to ensure that nobody seeking their protection at a time of danger should suffer want. The local community leadership seemed especially proud of the manner in which they had stepped up at the time. By the same token, they were rather disdainful of the absence of any official assistance.

At the District Magistrate’s office, staff were neck-deep in work preparing for the visits of the Chief Minister the next day, and of the Prime Minister on September 16. Personnel of the Special Protection Group (SPG) which attends to VVIP security, had landed in the sole helipad available in the district and were examining all arrangements being made for the Prime Minister’s visit. Since the Prime Minister intended to summon top officials from the district for an evaluation meeting, arrangements were being made in the vicinity of the helipad for the gathering. Part of the district administration’s attention was diverted towards ensuring that the helipad and the adjoining conference hall were in appropriate condition to host a VVIP visit and conference. And there also seemed to be a strenuous effort underway to ensure that at least some of the camps would be given the veneer of efficiency and good cheer that could uplift VVIP spirits.

The newly appointed District Magistrate, Kaushal Raj Sharma, was preoccupied with these arrangements, but did this team the courtesy of a brief meeting. He was at pains to correct the impression this team had gathered of a sense of official neglect of the displaced people in makeshift camps. The official presence was thin he said, only because the job of comforting and sheltering the victim-survivors was best left to the community, which would not just deliver the service but also show deeply-needed empathy and fellow-feeling. The administration meanwhile was active from behind the scenes, providing all necessary supplies, including food, for the sustenance of those displaced in the riots. DM Sharma was particularly anxious to underline that the administration was being attentive to the special needs of children and those of tender years, by supplying milk in adequate quantities to the camps.

The Superintendent of Police (SP) and other senior officials, including the Deputy Inspector-General (DIG) and Inspector-General (IG) were unavailable since they were out in the field making necessary arrangements for the Chief Minister’s visit the following day and the Prime Minister’s anticipated arrival the day after.

The absence of the administration also shows in the absence of official records of the magnitude of human suffering. Columns of the army moving through the villages and combing the fields for bodies – mainly to still rumours that are rife about untold numbers being killed – are the solitary assurance of state protection for the victims. The police have filed their FIRs from initial oral statements from some refugees. They are yet to record statements, or organise affidavits from the victims. Lists of those displaced and the loss of property that has been caused in the villages scattered through at least three tehsils of Muzaffarnagar district, are yet to be prepared.

As a fact-finding team from New Delhi, we are dismayed by the evidence we see of the severity of the violence in the villages. The official count of those killed is thirty-nine, of which it has been firmly established, six were Hindus – or more specifically Jats – and the rest, Muslims. Again, the official estimate of those displaced is twenty-five thousand, of which all except about seven hundred are Muslims. Those displaced from other faiths, the DM affirms, are Dalits who have fled Muslim-dominated areas in fear of retaliatory violence. They have not been specific targets of violence though.

Unofficial counts of those killed put the number much higher: at perhaps fifty-three, on the basis of the number of autopsies performed at various hospitals around the district. And community leaders put the number of the displaced at fifty thousand.

This puts Muzaffarnagar in 2013 in the category of the worst instances of communal strife witnessed in the country. It is certainly the worst in over a decade. This fact-finding team is deeply apprehensive at the short term and long term consequences of this massive and systematic internal displacement, and of the chasm that has opened between the two communities. What aggravates it further is the fact that the victims had lived in close proximity of the aggressors. They were farm labour in the fields owned by the people who attacked them in their homes.

A reconstruction of the events

When this fact-finding team visited Muzaffarnagar, the threat of violence had abated, though rumour held the field. There were rumours in a Jat quarter of Kutba village – deserted but for the womenfolk who kept vigil over the fields and the cattle – that two from their community had been shot at and possibly killed in another part of the village. This rumour was soon scotched by the district administration. District Magistrate Sharma though confirmed that two bodies had been recovered from the Gang Nahar (or Jauli canal) the previous day and identified, though the causes of their death had not at that time been ascertained. The positive aspect here though, was that with the discovery of these two bodies, all members of the Jat community reported missing, had been accounted for.
This team found however, that even a week after the violence erupted in full-blown fury, there was no agreed narrative on what led to it. 

There was general agreement among all those the team spoke to, that the Kawal incident of August 27 had lit the immediate spark. Many among them hastened to add the important rider that the embitterment of the atmosphere had been underway for at least two months prior to Kawal. Few among the victims that this team spoke to could account for the sudden strains that emerged in relations between the Muslims and the Jats of the district. But several among the Muslims this team spoke to in the camps of the displaced, reported being challenged and taunted for accustomed and long accepted patterns of behaviour. Wearing the skull cap and beard has been a custom for several among those of the Muslim faith in the district. But in the two months preceding the September violence, many among them reported being publicly upbraided for displaying emblems of loyalty towards the Taliban, which supposedly made them sympathisers or even participants in what is constructed in the media discourse as the global jihad.

Community honour, as represented in the dignity and bodily integrity of women, was among the themes constantly played on to sharpen the growing estrangement. A further twist was imparted by rumours made up in the ideological factory of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), of a “love jihad” launched by attractive young Muslim boys equipped with the full range of the tools of enticement – modish clothes, mobile phones and sweet-talk – to entangle young girls of the other faith, all for serving the hidden agenda of boosting numbers of those born into the faith.

In the circumstances, every incident involving any manner of interaction between a man and a woman, came to be viewed with suspicion, especially if they came from different faiths. On August 9, as Muslims were preparing for their Eid-ul-Fitr festivities, one among them, Idris, was killed at the doorstep of the Eidgah in Muzaffarnagar. There had been an alleged incident of harassment involving Idris’ daughter for which he had a few days before, confronted and slapped the offending individual in public. His murder was seen as retribution by the man who had suffered the public humiliation. Police were quick to apprehend the individual concerned, along with two alleged accomplices.

There was an incident of a Muslim girl being harassed by youths of the Jat community in the village of Shoram on August 18. The offending individuals again suffered direct action by kinfolk of their target. A minor affray ensued which the local administration allegedly did nothing about.

Resentment was stoked by the VHP and its affiliates in the area, over the seeming alacrity with which the police had acted in a case involving the murder of a person of the Muslim faith in the August 9 incident. The atmosphere continued to deteriorate without any manner of an antidote being administered either by the political leadership or the local administration.

The Kawal incident on August 27 occurred in a milieu that had been saturated with communal toxins and readily lent itself to any interpretation that served immediate political agendas.

All that is known about Kawal, August 27, is that three young men turned up dead at the end of it. There have been reports about a youth from the village, Shahnawaz, constantly harassing a young girl from the neighbouring Malikpura village and being confronted by her brother Sachin and cousin Gaurav. There are reports of Shahnawaz drawing a dagger at that point, but being bested in hand-to-hand struggle and having the dagger turned on him with fatal consequences. There are also reports that he was simply shot dead by the irate kinsmen of the girl he had been harassing. Sachin and Gaurav were then reportedly set upon by Shahnawaz’s community and beaten to death in public.

There are also recorded narratives in the media about Sachin and Gaurav being confronted by persons of the Muslim faith because of their persistent pursuit of a young Muslim girl. At that time, according to this narrative, they managed to snatch a weapon from among their attackers and kill one among them, before they were themselves overwhelmed by the fury of the mob.

Competing with these accounts, all deeply suffused with community honour, is another one, rather more mundane: that Shahnawaz and Sachin ran into each other on their bicycles and got into an argument in which deeply offensive communal slurs were traded, following which they fell upon each other. Gaurav who was in the vicinity ran to the aid of his cousin. At the end of the fracas, all three lay dead.

In the circumstances, the U.P. state government reacted in the worst manner possible. It gave in to accusations that its supposed partisanship in allowing free rein to miscreants from the Muslim side had emboldened them to take the law into their hands. This narrative of a partisan administration arose, in part, from the action that had followed the August 9 murder and prompted after the Kawal incident, the summary and abrupt transfer of both the District Magistrate and Superintendent of Police within hours. Kawal was a localised incident that could have been contained by a strong dose of political statesmanship. Instead of stepping up with what was required, the U.P. state government signalled indecision, ineptitude, or even worse – possibly a degree of collusion with the forces of disorder.

The Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), ostensibly an apolitical force that represents the cause of the Jat peasantry of western U.P., came up soon afterwards with the call for a grand council (mahapanchayat) or gathering of the Jat clans of the region. That in itself may not have been cause for concern since this manner of gathering has been summoned to deliberate on a range of issues, including fair prices for agricultural produce. Yet the call issued for August 31 had overtones that were distinctly menacing: its theme was the honour of the women of the community, as represented in the slogan “Ma, Beti, Bahu Bachao”.

The administration had by this time woken up to the possibility of a serious breach of the peace and imposed prohibitory orders under section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code. On August 30, community leaders of the Muslim faith in the guise of taking a delegation to meet the newly appointed DM, Kaushal Raj Sharma, began assembling in Muzaffarnagar town. Prominent political leaders from the area joined the delegation, inevitably boosting its number in a manner that made utter nonsense of the prohibitory orders in force. These included Kadir Rana of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) who represents Muzaffarnagar in the Lok Sabha, his party colleague Jameel Ahmad Qasmi who represents the nearby constituency of Meerapur in the U.P. legislative assembly, and a former Congress legislator, Saeed-uz-Zaman. The district administration insists there was no permission given – officially or otherwise – for the gathering. But when confronted by the angry crowd that had assembled in a central area of the town, the DM had no option but to emerge from his office and seek their dispersal through subtle persuasion. That, rather than the use of force was deemed the more prudent option in the circumstances. The petition seeking the reining in of hostile actions by the new alignment that had sprung up to avenge the “love jihad”, was received and the gathering dispersed.

Within the over-heated communal atmosphere of Muzaffarnagar, the DM’s gesture in meeting with the delegation from the Muslim community was read as a measure of appeasement of communal aggression. The new consolidation under the Hindutva umbrella was quick to portray what the DM thought was mere administrative prudence, as the blatant display of a double standard: prohibitory orders would be imposed on the Jat mahapanchayat, but not on the Muslim petitioners.

This imparted a fresh edge of anger to the mahapanchayat that gathered on August 31, focused exclusively on the defence of feminine honour. Again, the administration faltered in its enforcement of prohibitory orders, for which the DM offers the alibi that these gatherings are often organised by discrete communications through community networks, which arrive at decisions to assemble at a particular place and time without any prior announcement. The clans (or khaps) of the Jat community have their own means of mobilisation which they use frequently, often catching the administration on its blindside.

Yet with all these alibis on offer, the evidence seems overwhelmingly to indicate that the administration remained passive as the spiral of provocative actions gathered momentum. The precise reasons need to be ascertained. It is more than likely that the paralysis arose from conflicting guidance from the political leadership, both locally and at the state level. If so, the trail of formal instructions and informal verbal orders conveyed by the political leaders through the two weeks that followed the Kawal incident, needs to be uncovered.

District Magistrate Sharma, new to his job, speaks now of having received some inkling of a cycle of Jat community gatherings being planned after the “Ma, Beti, Bahu Bachao” assembly. Again, because of the undercover mode of communication and organisation adopted, the administration missed out on the details. It received word that one panchayat of a particular clan grouping (or khap) had been held on September 5. To add to its confusion, there was also a call for a bandh through the district by the BJP that very day.

Meanwhile, a video clip purporting to show the killing of Gaurav and Sachin was circulated through the mobile phone network, and posted on the facebook page belonging to Sangeet Singh Som of the BJP, who represents Meerut’s Sardhana constituency in the state legislature. The video never had great plausibility since it was easily traced to an incident in Sialkot in Pakistan, two years back, in which two brothers were killed in a grisly incident of mob violence. But in the overheated environment of Muzaffarnagar, it circulated widely and ignited further animosities.

What seems germane here is that with the buildup of tension and the continuing acts of default by the district administration, there was no way that the mahapanchayat planned for September 7 could have been stopped, except through a determined assertion of administrative will. This would have involved a mass deployment of security forces through Muzaffarnagar district and adjoining areas in Shamli, Meerut, and Baghpat – not to mention the districts of Haryana from where significant participation was expected.

The administration decided against this course and instead, seemingly opted for the strategy of keeping a close vigil over the events of the day. All the groups arriving at the venue of the mahapanchayat – Nangla Mandaur in Jansath block, about twenty kilometres from Muzaffarnagar and very close to Kawal village where it all ostensibly started – were closely observed for any possible violent intent. DM Sharma states now that all the lethal weapons that were later brandished at the mahapanchayat were carefully concealed as the crowds assembled. 

The mahapanchayat itself was raucous and unruly. Sangeet Som and an itinerant saffron-robed woman from the vicinity of Muzaffarnagar, Sadhvi Prachi, were reported to have made especially angry and accusatory speeches, denouncing the continuing threats to the faith from the large Muslim presence in the district. Lethal arms were unsheathed and brandished with clearly threatening intent. The few political leaders who came to the event with the purpose of injecting an element of moderation were shouted down amidst much heckling and chanting of the name of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi as the man of the moment.

As the crowds dispersed, filled with the spirit of revenge, Israr a freelance photographer who had been hired that day to film the event for the local police was set upon and beaten to death. And from then on, divergent narratives emerge. One side has it that as a tractor transporting a trailer full of participants in the mahapanchayat crossed the Jauli village, it came under fire from Muslims who had hidden themselves in the fields adjoining the road. Six people were allegedly killed and their bodies dumped into the Gang Nahar. That account is disputed by one of the local elements who has been named in the police report registered after the event. The reality he claims, is that those on board the tractor trailer dragged a passerby on board and began mercilessly beating him, ultimately leading to his death. A brawl ensued in which firearms and lethal weapons were used after which a number from both sides lay dead.

Violence had meanwhile erupted in Muzaffarnagar town, where Rajesh Verma, a news reporter who works as a stringer for the IBN 7 network was shot through the chest and died on the spot. It is difficult to escape the inference that Verma who was an extremely popular journalist in the town, was shot with deliberate intent, though both sides were reportedly using firearms quite freely by this time.

By that evening, curfew had been clamped in three police station jurisdictions within Muzaffarnagar town, but violence had spread like a contagion to the villages, especially in the tehsils of Budhana and Muzaffarnagar, and the neighbouring district of Shamli.

Victim-survivors that this team met from the village of Kutba in Budhana tehsil, spoke of assurances being given all through the evening of September 7 by the gram pradhan Devinder, asking all communities to stay calm and keep the peace. The next morning at eight, the pradhan himself was seen leading a violent mob, burning down Muslim homes and hacking those who came in their path. Kutba village reported eight deaths and is along with other villages within the jurisdiction of the Phugama police station, among the worst affected in the violence of those days.

There were also reports which indicated the opposite: of Muslim families being sheltered by the gram pradhan through the night of September 7 when violence began spreading, and being escorted to the safety of camps set up by the community in neighbouring towns the following day. Such an incident, also coincidentally involving a pradhan named Devinder from the Kinauni village in Budhana tehsil, was recorded by a delegation of the CPI(M) which visited the district at roughly the same time as this team.

With violence engulfing widely dispersed villages where Muslims and Jats have lived together in amity for decades, the job of enforcement became much more difficult. In most cases, this team found that the security presence had been pulled out of villages where the worst outbreaks had happened, presumably since they had been evacuated by members of the vulnerable community. A security presence was visible in the more substantial towns such as Budhana and Tanwali, though only in the main thoroughfares and squares and not in the vicinity of the camps and shelters for the displaced.

Conclusions: Of state failure and political cynicism

The conclusions of this team are that the state government seems to have been taken by surprise, though they have no reason to, that there was probably a deliberate disregard of rising tensions and intelligence reports. Muslims were attacked not so much with the intent of causing deaths, which would invite serious opprobrium, but with the object of chasing them out of the Hindu majority villages. The team has concluded that there was a plan to end decades of coexistence and “cleanse” certain villages of the Muslim presence. Having carried through this part of their agenda, the young males – particularly those of the Jat community – have also chosen at least during daylight hours, to make themselves scarce in their usual places of habitation. The police response has been too little and too late.

Investigations into the cycle of provocation and violence that led to the conflagaration of September 7 have made little headway. And the police have been conspicuous by their absence in villages cleansed of the Muslim presence, where even the Jat community has chosen to make itself scarce. Mobile patrols and static pickets have been absent where they may have been most required. With the kind of religious cleansing that has been attempted, a number of pickets should have been set up in all villages of mixed religious composition, to check the growing animosity between communities. And even if a number of complaints and FIR’s have been registered, there seems to have been no attempt to arrest the perpetrators of the killing and violent expulsion of Muslims.

The state government has disregarded all norms of prudent staffing of police stations in a district of mixed religious composition. Police stations according to the many victim-survivors this team met, simply refused to respond to their urgent calls for help because they were manned by personnel in tacit sympathy with the caste agenda of the aggressors. In this respect, the locals believe that the Akhilesh Yadav ministry has reversed a healthy practice from earlier years, to assign police command posts in a manner that minimised the potential for conflict of interests arising from caste or religious loyalties. The outcome is a complete loss of faith in the agencies of the state, with the police now castigated as an accessory of caste and communal violence.

This team was shocked at the inability and incompetence of the state government, with even the basic measures not being taken to ensure that those provoking a communal conflagration were thwarted in their designs. Under threat of communal strife, a government has four major tasks to perform, and this team which includes an experienced civil administrator and senior police officer, feels that these tasks, if done with commitment and competence, would have averted the threat of communal violence. The essential steps involved -- prevention, control, rescue, rehabilitation and justice – are dealt with in greater detail below.

Prevention: The Akhilesh Yadav government failed to still the rumours that spread through the area like wildfire, adding to burgeoning tensions and pushing communities into confrontation. There are no two views that the Muzaffarnagar, and indeed the western belt of Uttar Pradesh, was plagued by toxic rumours designed to pit communities against each other. Instead of defusing these from the very beginning through a sustained information campaign, the state government chose to ignore them, contributing to a volatile atmosphere that could have erupted at any time.

Reports of the fake tape that was posted on the social media by a BJP legislator of adjoining Meerut district were also not acted upon by the state government until it was too late to intervene. Arrest warrants of the legislator were issued, and the fact that the video was of an incident in Pakistan, were made known only when the violence had erupted. 

Despite the tension over the incidents of alleged harassment of young girls and the subsequent deaths, the state government allowed large gatherings from both sides to take place without check. Displaced villagers from different parts of the district told the team that the violence started after panchayats were held in their respective villages. Though DM Sharma claims that a number of preventive arrests were made between August 31 and September 7, his case seems to lack conviction.

The team does not accept the explanation of the district authorities that they did not expect this mahapanchayat to take place. Villagers confirmed that there was sufficient notice for this, and at least they all knew it was going to be held. The failure to act on information was an abject failure of the state government.

Control: The state government was unable to contain the violence after it broke out. District authorities claimed that they had no idea it would spread to the countryside, and were expecting it only in the town area of Muzaffarnagar. The police was absent with not a single incident being reported by the villagers of police intervention to either arrest leaders making provocative speeches, or to help those being attacked by mobs. There is not a single shred of evidence to prove that the police acted against the mobs that freely attacked and killed their neighbours, and looted and burnt homes. The Army was called in eventually, and its presence brought down the levels of violence even though it was not authorised by the state administration to use force for ensuring peace. Women and children trapped in their homes told the team that they were rescued by the Army from the burning villages. The displaced villagers also spoke of incidents where the local police had supported the attacking mobs, but this could not be confirmed independently. However, the absence of the police in itself was an act of omission that really amounted to commission insofar as the raging violence was concerned.

Rescue: The apparatus of the state government was not visible in effecting the rescue of villagers from the mobs. Instead there are several instances when Muslims from adjoining villages, rushed in to rescue those who had been trapped in their bastis and could not escape.

Villagers ran for their lives through the days and night, with the state administration unwilling or unable to help them. Some were killed, others were injured, but the effort remained to run to safety. Women spoke of how they ran with their little children, terrified out of their wits, barefoot with no belongings for help, with not a single policeman in sight. Their homes were looted and set ablaze but the police are still to visit several of the affected villages till date.
Relief: Government figures place the number of displaced persons at 25,000 but the villagers of Muzaffarnagar insist the number is well over 50,000. Hundreds and thousands of men, women and children ran for their lives over September 6-9, as they were attacked by mobs armed with lathis, guns, swords, daggers and broken glass. They just ran without knowing where they would go, as the crowds attacked them and their homes that were looted and in several cases gutted. Many villagers ran for shelter just out of fear of being attacked. They ended up in the bigger kasbas, in madarsas or just some open spaces where they were assured that surrounding habitations held no threat.

They have been living under the open skies since then, dependent entirely on the goodwill of those around them for food, clothing and medical help. The local community has been looking after their needs to the extent possible, by arranging food, bedding, clothes. The state government had not stepped in according to the testimony of the victim survivors, though DM Sharma insists that the district administration had been organising supplies of essential commodities. It is difficult to avoid the inference that these interventions came rather late and were intended to embroider the scenario just ahead of a series of VVIP visits.

The team does not believe that it is a good idea for the district administration to make a virtue of community self-help in such situations. When the authority of the state is seen to have eroded, or even collapsed, a visible presence of its agencies in the subsequent rescue and rehabilitation is essential to restore public confidence.

Mothers with little babies complained about the lack of food and medical aid. There were no doctors at the camp. No police, no state official at all. The thousands of displaced persons who made it clear they could never go back home, have been left by the Akhilesh Yadav government to fend for themselves.

Justice: The state government has still not been able to initiate the process of justice in the district. The police has filed a number of FIR’s but these represent something of a scattershot approach and seem to have not named the real perpetrators of the violence. Eyewitnesses to the violence told this team that they have not been interviewed by the police. The essential step to restore confidence, of setting up small police posts near the shelters where the displaced have gathered, to gather their testimony, has not been taken.
At one of the larger villages, Kutba, the team found a number of safai karamcharis brought in to sweep the streets of what was a virtual ghost town. Everyone had fled, the Muslims as they were attacked, and the Jats for fear of arrests. Only a few women and old men remained. Asked about it a sub-divisional magistrate supervising the arrangements said he was there for cleaning up. Then seeming to realise that this safai could well be interpreted as clearing up the evidence of serious crimes, he said that his job was to take stock of the situation.

This team believes that the procedure adopted shows a desire to cover up some of the worst acts of violence that have occurred. The safai operation which has been undertaken even before panchnamas with the victim have been registered about the losses they have suffered, creates grave doubts about how compensation will be evaluated in future.

Media mischief

It has been just over a year since graphic images were circulated over internet and the mobile phone network about the supposed atrocities inflicted on Muslims during the riots that engulfed the Bodoland areas of Assam. The images were quickly discovered to be manipulated and pulled out of an entirely irrelevant context, with deliberate intent to stoke the flames of vengeance. Soon, rumours were spread through the mobile phone network, that all people of northeastern origin in all parts of India had been marked out for a severe retribution. A mass flight of these people from some of India’s most cosmopolitan cities such as Bangalore and Pune ensued. In Assam, where they were mostly headed, journalists and social media users put all their energies into combating the noxious spread of rumour.

Despite the state of panic in which they arrived back in their hometowns, those who had fled did not become agents of a further escalation in the cycle of violence. Soon they were all travelling back to their places of work. It was an incident that illustrated the worst of the possible uses of the social media. By the same token, it showed also that the same media when used with a degree of social responsibility and sensitivity, could be the best antidote to sectarian political agendas.

Similar lessons emerge from Muzaffarnagar, though with one rather crucial qualification: though its use for destruction was amply on evidence, nobody quite stepped up to show how the social media could be used for building bridges and cooling the embers of sectarian hatred. The circulation of the images from Sialkot already referred to, was one of the most blatant abuses of the power of the social media in the Muzaffarnagar context. Those suspected of responsibility for this dark deed have been booked under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including forgery, criminal conspiracy and promoting enmity on religious grounds. But no arrests have been effected, though one among those responsible is believed to be roaming free in full public view in the district just adjoining Muzaffarnagar.

Further mischief has arisen from the use of stories and visuals published on mainstream media platforms, though after morphing and manipulating them to serve a sectarian agenda. The hand of the VHP functionaries in Muzaffarnagar is suspected in these particular acts. For instance, on September 8, a story from the Muzaffarnagar edition of Dainik Jagaran, a widely circulated daily newspaper in the Hindi belt and especially U.P., was circulated with the headline “Muzaffarnagar mein Musalmaanon ka Aatank, Hinduon mein Khauf” (Muslim terror in Muzaffarnagar, Fear among Hindus), when the story was originally published under the headline “Panchayat se laute do logon ki hatya” (Two killed while returning from panchayat).

On September 9, another scanned news story from the Dainik Jagaran was circulated with the headline reading: “Musalmaanon dwaara HInduon ka Katile-aam Jaari” (Mass Murder of Hindus by Muslims Underway), while the headline as published by the newspaper was “Dangaaiyon ko goli maarne ka aadesh” (Orders issued to shoot rioters on sight). 

The authorities seemed to respond to these threats in the worst possible manner: blocking the circulation of various newspapers in the district. On September 9, it was reported that copies of newspapers published in Delhi, Muzaffarnagar and Lucknow, were being examined by the authorities and deliveries being delayed for fear that their content could aggravate communal animosities. 

This was quite clearly the worst possible response to the crisis of hatred spread through the social media. In all such situations, it is the considered opinion of those who have studied the role of the media in conflict situations, that the best recourse is to allow the people to judge for themselves. Any reasonably well informed social media reader would, on seeing the purported Dainik Jagaran headline circulating through social media, make an effort to check it against the original. The forgery and the mischief would in other words, have been quickly detected if access had been ensured to the original item. In seeking to deny this access, the authorities acted in panic and ill-considered haste.

It is also appropriate to flag the response of the mainstream media – including the numerous news channels – for what seems a rather tepid response to the horrors of Muzaffarnagar. From the days of Gujarat 2002, India’s first major communal pogrom in the age of the twenty-four hour news channel, it has been evident that a close watch over the course of the violence, once it flares up, often shames the authorities into acting even against those with political connections. That element of media pressure for swift and purposive administrative action seems to have been absent in Muzaffarnagar. The reasons would need careful study by all, including the media community.

The larger politics

Finally, it is vital to take into account the larger context in which the most recent round of communal violence in Uttar Pradesh was constructed. This is a story that goes back to an early date in the life of the Akhilesh Yadav ministry. In October 2012, riots broke out in Faizabad district after some idols were reported missing from a temple and politicians of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad appeared on the scene to blame the administration and whip up hostilities against those of the Muslim faith. The idols were soon afterwards discovered, but by then the violence had occurred, the estrangement between communities had set in – and political dividends had been harvested by whichever force staged that entire episode.

This was followed by a number of minor skirmishes over the next few months. In August this year, when the VHP chose to visit its old battleground of Ayodhya with the ritual mobilisation of the “chaurasi kosi yatra”, the U.P. State Government responded with a heavy-handed security cordon to prevent Hindutva activists from arriving at the proposed site of the action. Local mahants at Ayodhya spoke up against the VHP effort to take over as its exclusive patrimony, spaces they had learnt to share over generations between various cults associated with Hindu divinity. And the kosi yatra was soon called off with the VHP retreating in disarray.

Muslim political groups in U.P. remained unimpressed since the Akhilesh Yadav ministry has had a history of double-dealing ever since it took office last year. There were rumours rife of a “fixed match” in which the VHP had made a pretence of withdrawal on the Ayodhya battleground, only to raise the stakes elsewhere. And the entire thing was seen to be a choreographed spectacle in which Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP) and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would create a sharp polarisation on communal grounds, compelling the electorate in the state to make a choice between them, and squeezing out the other parties which have been claiming significant shares of the popular vote in recent elections.

Political formations and civil society actors in U.P. and elsewhere will have to watch the unfolding of any such agenda in future months since the BJP has with the formal nomination of Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate for general elections in 2014, signalled that it will raise the temperature of confrontation between communities as a matter of electoral strategy. The possible retreat of the Muslims into a siege mentality would suit the cynical calculations of other parties that thrive on the vulnerability of the religious minority. Political formations committed to secularism and civil society actors working for communal peace need to blow the whistle on this agenda before it causes deeper damage. The consequences in human suffering of its full implementation could be beyond imagination.

Recommendations

This team has on the basis of its discussions with victim-survivors and the local administration, arrived at a number of concrete recommendations in regard to immediate priorities for action:

• A Supreme Court judge should be appointed to carry out an immediate and time-bound inquiry into the incidents of violence;
• The Communal Violence bill should be brought to the first rank of legislative priorities, making dereliction of duty by public officials involving both acts of omission and commission, a punishable offence and instituting the principle of command responsibility.
• Legal and mandatory duties be instituted under the bill for rescue, relief and rehabilitation of the victims of communal violence.
• Immediate arrest of the political leaders who incited violence at the mahapanchayat.
• Arrest of the originator of the fake video which fomented ill feeling among communities and contributed directly to the violence.
• Lists to be prepared of all those displaced; their material losses evaluated; supplies of food, drinking water, shelter and clothing to be ensured, with special attention to the needs of women and children.
• Doctors and medical attendants to be pressed into service at all camps.
• Urgent attention to the conditions of sanitation in the camps.
• Deployment of police personnel, including women constables to guard the camps.
• A coherent and credible plan to be worked out for the rehabilitation of all the displaced in their original habitations.
• Review of all police postings in communally sensitive districts; reassignment of officers seen to be too closely integrated with local caste and communal interest groups.

ANNEXURE

The Role of Political Parties

The trajectory of communal riots in Uttar Pradesh has always displayed political hand/hands behind the violence. The incident said to be triggering off the violence is usually preceded by days or even weeks of rumours seeking to spread distrust and suspicion between the targeted communities that eventually erupt in communal clashes. This has been documented in reports over the years.

It was no different in Muzaffarnagar, a district and parliamentary constituency with a high proportion of Muslims, Jats and Dalits peppered with other castes. Estimates place the number of Muslims in the district as close to 47 per cent, although most of them are not land owners, according to the District authorities, but work as labour on the land owned by the Jats, or have petty businesses such as selling cloth from village to village.

Significantly, the relationship between the Jats and the Muslims has been fairly stable with both voting together for the same political parties in the past. Unlike the Dalits, the Muslims, while poor have not faced discrimination at the same levels in this district, with Muzaffarnagar not experiencing communal violence in the past. It has also been one of the first districts to move away from the Congress monopoly of Uttar Pradesh after Independence, searching for parliamentary alternatives as early as 1967.

A glance at the voting pattern bears this out. The Congress party held sway in the initial years after Independence but in 1962 Muzaffarnagar departed from the political norm to vote for the Communist Party of India in two successive elections for the fourth and fifth Lok Sabha in 1967 and 1971 respectively. Latafat Ali Khan of the CPI was the first Muslim MP from Muzaffarnagar in 1962. The Janata Party won the seat in 1977 and the Janata party (S) in 1980. The 1984 election after the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, brought back the Congress to Muzaffarnagar but only for one term in office. It returned to the Janata Dal whose candidate Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was elected from this constituency in 1989 and since then Muzaffarnagar constituency has remained with the opposition. The BJP came to power for the first time in 1991 and stayed for three terms till 2004. The Congress returned for one term, followed for the first time by the Samajwadi party and currently in the 15th Lok Sabha by Qadir Rana of the Bahujan Samaj party. In the 15th Lok Sabha Muzaffarnagar has returned only five Muslim MPs to Parliament, despite the high percentage of the minority vote.

Secular voting has largely characterized this constituency until recent years, since 1991 to be precise, when the BJP came to power for three consecutive terms on the non-Muslim vote, followed then by a succession then of three Muslim MPs albeit from three different parties, the Congress, Samajwadi and BSP respectively.

It is clear from the political history of Muzaffarnagar that the Rashtriya Lok Dal under Ajit Singh is not a factor here. His party has never won the seat, and in the battle for the Jat vote between the RJD and the BJP in western UP, the Muzaffarnagar Jats have clearly opted for the BJP as the political parliamentary trajectory indicates.

The Political Players

Bahujan Samaj Party: its sitting MP Qadir Rana has not been seen since the violence broke out. Muslims in relief camps are highly critical of his absence. An FIR has been filed against him for hate speech at a public meeting addressed by different political parties on August 30.

The BSP has asked for the dismissal of the Akhilesh Yadav government, and the imposition of President’s rule in Uttar Pradesh. But apart from this one demand and criticism of the state government’s role, the BSP seems to be following a “hands off” policy with the party remaining out of the current conflict. Although some Jats in one of the worst hit villages, Kutba said that the Dalits had attacked the Muslim homes, there was no confirmation of this from the affected Muslims who were categorical that they had been attacked by their Jat neighbours and not the Dalits.

The BSP stands to gain politically if the Muslim vote that seems to be shifting from Samajwadi Party at this point in time gravitates towards it, as it has done in the past. Muslims in relief camps recalled the peaceful days under the Mayawati government, and insisted individually that her administrative policies were inclusive and not divisive.

Congress Party: Clearly in the assessment of the party leadership, the violence provides an opportunity for garnering the votes. As a result of this Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi paid a flying visit to Muzaffarnagar, with the former taking the unprecedented step of having a meeting with district and state officials at the helipad itself. A day before the district authorities were busy renovating two rooms near the helipad for this meeting by the Prime Minister to send out the message that the Congress party was monitoring the situation closely.

The police field an FIR against Congress leader Saeedujjama for allegedly provocative speeches on August 30.

Bharatiya Janata Party: The BJP has been actively involved in the violence and could emerge, when the embers die down, as the major gainer. Its leaders have been active in organising the panchayats and the mahapanchayats in the villages where hate speeches pushed the crowd to take revenge against the Muslims for harassing their women. Slogans against Muslims for killing cows and assaulting Hindu women mixed with slogans in support of Narendra Modi rent the air after the series of meetings and mahapanchayats in the villages. Several Muslims, including women, in the relief camps told the team that the mobs were shouting Har Har Mahadev and slogans in support of Narendra Modi when they attacked the villages.

After speaking to the district authorities and the residents of Muzaffarnagar, the team came to the conclusion that the BJP had played a major role in spreading lies and rumours across the countryside. There is concrete evidence of:

1) A video of an over two-year-old incident in Pakistan was posted on the social media by legislator Sangeet Singh Som from Sardana assembly constituency as an act of violence perpetrated by Muzaffarnagar Muslims. A warrant is out for his arrest but he has so far not been nabbed.

2) Hate speeches by BJP leaders inciting crowds to attack the Muslims and teach them a lesson. FIRs have been registered against at least four senior BJP leaders and many others who have still to be apprehended. BJP workers have successfully blocked the police from arresting these leaders so far.

3) Of rumours spread through the villages based on lies, and calculated to stir passions. These spread like wildfire across the belt, with villagers running for shelter for fear of impending attack. In most of the affected villages, the men armed themselves with sticks, broken glass, guns and daggers to attack the Muslims and prevent them from harassing their women, while in a few the Jats also ran for shelter believing they would be attacked by the Muslims. Here the theme was “save our women” and not “Muslims are terrorists”.

4) Tension was already brewing in Western UP before the alleged eve teasing and subsequent murder incident. The panchayats and in particular the last mahapanchayat held on September 7 openly incited the mobs to violence so as to "save" their women. Leaders belonging to the BJP, according to eyewitness accounts, were in charge.

The BJP stands to gain substantially through the polarisation of votes. Uttar Pradesh is an important state with 80 parliamentary seats, for the forthcoming general elections. Jats dominate western UP and the violence in Muzaffarnagar has had impact across the belt. The consolidation of the Jat and other caste vote with a fractured minority vote, will allow the BJP to reap in huge electoral dividends.

Samajwadi Party: The Samajwadi Party now has the most to lose. The level of violence in Muzaffarabad has taken away whatever advantage it could have had through a polarisation of the vote.

The inability of the Akhilesh Yadav to prevent and control the violence has turned the Muslims completely against the Samajwadi party in Muzaffarnagar. Muslims forced to leave their homes and villages attacked the state government for not protecting them, with some even maintaining that it was working along with the BJP for electoral gains.

The Muslim vote in western Uttar Pradesh that has been impacted by the violence is likely to move away from the Samajwadi party, and look at other alternatives. This is one of the major reasons why the Congress has already stepped in for benefits, while the more cautious BSP is still testing the waters.

One of the main rumours circulating not just in Muzaffarnagar but in UP and Delhi as well is that Mulayam Singh and the BJP have been working together to ensure the consolidation of the vote bank. There is not sufficient evidence on the ground to support this except for the fact that: 

(i) despite information the state government did not move to prevent the mahapanchayat and subsequent panchayats that vitiated the secular atmosphere in the villages; and
(ii) till date its police, despite supposed instructions, has not arrested a single BJP leader despite the FIRs against them.

The district authorities told the team that they had expected some violence in Muzaffarnagar but had not expected the flames to engulf the villages. Here, the authorities said, they were completely taken by surprise.

The Samajwadi Party, for the moment at least, has factored itself out of this belt and has lost the support of the Muslims.

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