Kadalpur (Uttar Pradesh): To the residents of Kadalpur village, which is at the centre of controversy raging over the suspension of sub-divisional magistrate Durga Shakti Nagpal, the IAS officer is no hero.
The Akhilesh Yadav government’s decision to suspend Nagpal, they say, was right and they warn that any move to re-instate her will be met with public protests.
The narrative in the media and allegations by the state’s opposition parties that Nagpal’s suspension was the handiwork of state’s illegal sand mining lobby (which the young IAS officer had taken on head on) has no resonance here.
A week after the wall of an under-construction mosque, which was not legally sanctioned, was taken down by the district administration - a decision that ostensibly cost Nagpal her post – the residents of the village are angry and upset at what they describe as the administration’s high-handedness in dealing with the issue.
Recounting the events of 27 July, when the wall of the mosque was taken down, Ausaf Ali, a farmer and resident of the village, said, “We requested the SDM to give us a week’s time. We didn't know that permission was to be taken to build the mosque."
"We promised her we will not to lay another brick till we get permission and requested her to allow us to continue to perform namaaz here. But she said she had orders and directed the police to demolish the structure. The police then broke the wall down,” he said.
Ali rejected any link between the sand mafia and Nagpal’s removal.
When asked what he would like to say to the state government in the light of what has happened, Ali said, “The decision to suspend the SDM was the right decision. If she is re-instated, we will protest. We will march to the collectorate, we will not give up our fight.”
The site of the mosque – an elevated platform with a tarpaulin roof - is situated at the entrance of the predominantly Muslim village. It has become a hub of activity with people congregating from neighbouring villages and a constant stream of reporters arriving from Delhi since the news of Nagpal’s suspension broke.
Residents of the village were agitated over reports that the state administration had given a clean chit to Nagpal.
Reacting to the District Magistrate’s report on Thursday that no wall had been demolished, Zakir Hussain, pradhaan of neighbouring village Anwar Garh, said, “The District Magistrate has given Nagpal a clean chit. Neither did he come here nor did he speak to the head of panchayat. The magistrate has given a wrong report. Why would the people of the village demolish their own mosque?”
While the prospect of communal tension erupting in the village is slim, given that nearly 80 per cent of the residents are Muslim and that the construction of the mosque wasn't opposed by anyone, the chorus against Nagpal and her alleged disregard for their religious sentiments is growing.
Incidentally, it was Samajwadi Party MLA and minister Narendra Bhati, alleged to have links with sand mafia, who inaugurated the construction of the mosque recently and donated Rs 51,000 for its construction. (A video leaked on Friday shows Bhati boasting how he was instrumental in getting Nagpal suspended within hours of demolition of mosque wall.)
If Bhati inaugurated the construction of the mosque, why then didn't the administration inform the residents of the village at that time that they would require permission to build a mosque, asked local congress leader Dhirendra Singh Thakur.
After all, he reasons, if a minister inaugurates a mosque, protocol would imply that administrative officials and police officers would have been present at the site and would have been aware of the mosque’s construction.
“When the inauguration was done one-and-a-half months ago, the administration should have made people aware that now it has been inaugurated, permission needs to be taken build it. This is a big lapse on the part of the government. They should have informed the residents of the village,” Dhirendra Singh, spokesperson for the Uttar Pradesh Congress, said.
When asked what he made of controversy, Singh said, “The people of the village are not aware of the Supreme Court order on illegal constructions. The least the administration could have done is to make them aware, direct them to take the necessary permission and put a hold on the construction of the mosque till such time as permission was granted."
"That way the Supreme Court order would have been followed. But to land up there and demolish the mosque is a cruel joke on the people, it has hurt their religious sentiments. You will find that both Hindus and Muslims here will agree that what happened is wrong. The administration should have given some notice to the people. The decision to demolish the wall without any notice cannot be seen as right decision any way you look at it,” he said.
What about the role that is being attributed to the sand mafia in getting Nagpal out?
“The sand mafia is active in this district. And it is also true that Nagpal was cracking down on the sand mafia. But whether these two incidents are related, we cannot say,” Singh said.
Even the villagers who support Nagpal for cracking down on the sand mafia, question her decision to demolish the wall of the mosque.
“Nagpal took on the sand mafia and it is good that she did it. But she mishandled the mosque issue,"Mozim, an advocate from a neighbouring village, said.
"Even if it was a trap to suspend her, why did she fall for it? She should have handled the issue more tactfully, especially given its sensitive nature. She could have given the residents of the village some notice,” he said.
Given the situation on the ground and support for the suspension of Nagpal from the Muslim community in Kadalpur and surrounding villages in Gautam Budh Nagar - a Lok Sabha constituency the Samajwadi Party is looking to win in the next general elections - the Akhilesh Yadav government is not likely to back down from the stance they have taken.
Not only has Nagpal’s suspension benefited the politically connected sand mafia, it has also bolstered the support for Samajwadi Party. Competitive vote-bank politics has already begun. The incumbent BSP MP from Gautam Budh Nagar is reported to have donated Rs one lakh to the residents to Kadalpur after the wall was demolished, even though his leader Mayawati has been defending Nagpal and attacking the government.
Speaking about who has gained the most politically from this controversy, UP congress spokesperson Singh said, “Naturally, it is the Samajwadi Party. This issue has to do with the minorities and the SP government is supported by the minority vote-bank. If they lose the minorities, they won’t be in power."
"So they will do all they can to ensure that they don’t lose the minority vote. Building a mosque is a small thing, why then hasn't the government not given people the permission to build it. They want to keep the issue alive. What you see on TV is all drama,” he said.