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Muzaffarnagar riots: How BJP, SP and BSP fanned the flames

Muzaffarnagar: Was it really one murder in a part of Muzaffarnagar nobody had heard of until now that led to the worst ever riots in the district, leaving over 45 people dead with the Army having to be called in for the first time since the 1992 post-Babri conflagration? Or was it the leaders of three major political parties – the Samajwadi Party, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party – who feasted on the incident and its immediate counter attack, strategically adding to it their hatred and falsehoods?

The face-off between the Jats and Muslims, which led to riots that spread to villages in the interior of the district for the first time in the history of Uttar Pradesh, is in fact rooted in a systematic hate campaign initiated by leaders of all political parties over the past several months.

Ostensibly, the narrative begins on August 27, when two Jat boys – Gaurav and Sachin – reportedly killed a Muslim boy named Shahnawaz. In retaliation, Shahnawaz’s relatives killed Gaurav and Sachin. All three murders took place in the tiny village of Kawal, Jansath tehsil, over 20 km away from Muzaffarnagar city.

While it has been widely reported that the fight was sparked off when Shahnawaz harassed Gaurav and Sachin’s cousin sister, the FIR in the murder astonishingly makes no mention of sexual harassment or molestation. According to police records, Gaurav and Sachin picked a fight with Shahnawaz over a motorcycle accident.

Mahapanchayat at village Sikhera on 7 September. Image by Mahesh Kumar

Mahapanchayat at village Sikhera on 7 September. Image by Manish Kumar

But more significantly, within two hours of the incident, the District Magistrate (DM) Surendra Singh of the 2005 batch of the IPS along with SSP Manzil Saini, another young and dynamic IPS officer, were transferred. If you think the transfer was an administrative rap on the knuckles for non-performance in a crisis, think again -- former Rajya Sabha MP and Muzaffarnagar resident Amir Alam Khan not only called Singh a “communal” officer, but also admitted to Firstpost that he had himself repeatedly written to the chief minister seeking the DM’s transfer.

To put it simply, Amir Alam Khan did to Surendra Singh and Manzil Saini what Samajwadi Party leader Narendra Bhati did to Durga Shakti Nagpal in Greater Noida.

According to locals, Surendra Singh had refused to toe the line of the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP). Known to be a good, honest officer, he had come down hard on his own administration for corruption and had even started a massive campaign against encroachments and illegal constructions. This kind of administration had never been witnessed earlier in Muzaffarnagar, and Surendra Singh was immensely popular for it. But even as he earned kudos from the public, SP politicians were gunning for him. They used his caste (Surendra Singh is Jat) to plan his ouster.

“Surendra Singh is communal. He should have been removed much earlier. In fact, it is he who instigated an attack on Muslims to take revenge for his ouster,’’ claimed Amir Alam Khan to Firstpost. Khan expects to be the SP candidate from the Bijnor Lok Sabha constituency in 2014.

Did you write to CM and the party high command for Surendra Singh’s removal?
“I did, on several occasions,” admits Amir Alam Khan.

In fact, Amir Alam and his MLA son Nawajish (from the Budhana Assembly constituency in Muzaffarnagar) had prepared the grounds for Surendra Singh’s removal. The latter had written to and personally complained to SP leader Azam Khan who is in charge of Muzaffarnagar district, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, his father Mulayam Singh Yadav and his uncle Ramgopal Yadav.

But the diabolical politicking was only starting with the ouster of Surendra Singh at the first opportunity the political class got.

Suddenly, there were two new entrants in the administration of a communally sensitive district – Kaushal Raj Sharma in place of Surendra Singh and Subhash Chandra Dubey replacing Saini. When Additional Director General of Police Arun Kumar visited Muzaffarnagar on August 27 after the murders to take stock of the situation, he assured that the situation was under control. Arun Kumar is better known in connection with the Aarushi murder case – his probe had led to the arrest of three domestic help.

Despite his assurances of calm, there is compelling evidence to show that the Muzaffarnagar administration was controlled from Lucknow from August 27 onwards. Subhash Chandra Dubey, another young IPS officer considered ‘difficult’ by politicians, could not be remote-controlled and he too would be silently removed four days later. The replacement was Praveen Kumar Tripathi, on the pretext that Tripathi has worked in Muzaffarnagar earlier.

Senior bureaucrats and police officials in Lucknow had precise knowledge of the gravity of the situation, evident from their frequent rounds to Muzaffarnagar by helicopter.

BJP leaders including Sangeet Som and Sadhavi Prachi at dais on the panchayt day at village Sikhera on 31 August. Image by Mahesh Kumar.

BJP leaders including Sangeet Som and Sadhavi Prachi at dais on the panchayt day at village Sikhera on 31 August. Image by Manish Kumar.

By now, Amir Alam Khan having done his job, it was now the turn of the BSP and BJP’s local leaders to take over. Even a couple of Congress leaders shared the dais with the BSP in the latter’s show of strength for Muslims.

That was when, as tension over the 27 August killings continued, a video emerged on YouTube, allegedly showing the killing of Gaurav and Sachin. Those who watched said it was gruesome, simple butchery. The Investigating Officer’s diary in the case states specifically that BJP MLA Sangeet Som had clicked ‘like’ alongside the YouTube video and had commented against the barbaric murder.

The video was fake – it was online since 2010. But that didn’t stop it from going Bharitya Kisan Union (BKU) leaders Naresh and Tikait Tikait promptly called for a panchayat on August 31. BJP leaders Umesh Malik, Sadhvi Prachi, BJP MLAs Kunwar Bhartendu and Suresh Raja, former BJP MLAs Yograj Singh and Ashok Kansal also jumped on the bandwagon, calling the killing of the two brothers an attack on Hindu samaj. Immediately, BSP MLAs Maulana Jameel Ahmad, Noor Saleem Rana and Qadir Rana turned a namaaz gathering into an assembly at Meenakshi Chowk, Muzaffarnagar on August 30, a day before the Jat panchayat.

BSP leaders made vociferous demands for justice for the Muslim boy killed in Kawal, alleging that Muslims were falsely implicated in the murder of Gaurav and Sachin. Shockingly, the new DM Kaushal Raj Sharma and senior police officers shared the dais with the Muslim leaders at Meenakshi Chowk.

Asked about the wisdom of such a move, Kaushal Raj says Muslims wanted to give their representation for justice and he had gone there to assure them of action in the case.

Look at the facts: The DM had slapped Section 144, preventing any assembly of people. He had ordered arrests if any leader organized a people gathering. And then he attended a meeting, sharing the dais with Muslim leaders. It’s little wonder then that the DM and police were dubbed biased and untrustworthy the the following day’s panchayat of Jats at village Sikhera.

About 2,500 people, including BKU and BJP leaders, gathered at a school ground in Sikhera on August 31. They were furious. They demanded action from the Jat Samaj against the Muslims. And they called for a ‘Mahapanchayat’, where members of 17 Khap panchayats and the entire Hindu biradari (people of 35 castes)would attend.

The mood was so aggressive that dispersing members of the panchayat forced a Maruti Wagon R carrying four Muslims near Sikhera to stop. The passengers were beaten. Though local police came to their rescue, the car was trashed. The local police registered a case against eight persons.

The same day, August 31, Additional DG Arun Kumar also descended in Muzaffarnagar, along with a new SSP, in a helicopter. He came to Sikhera, watched the panchayat proceedings though the local police’s imposition of Section 144 was still in place. He gave a few interviews, installed the new SSP Praveen Kumar Tripathi who was replacing the three-day-old SSP Subhash Chandra Dubey, and then left for Lucknow by the same chopper.

Arun Kumar found the situation under control. Local police stations of villages Sikhera and Kawal sent daily reports to DM Kaushal Raj Sharma about the tense situation. Kaushal Raj Sharma dutifully forwarded these with his observations to Lucknow. And yet, it was agreed that the September 7 mahapanchayat may be allowed.

Weapons of all the policemen were deposited with the police station. Rapid Action Force (RAF) and Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) were also deployed, but their weapons were also kept in the deposits, because the local administration completely ruled out any action against the Mahapanchayat.

“Let them gather and keep your restraint,” was the message to the police. The PAC force, which has earned notoriety for communal bias in the past, was kept on the margins.

Between August 31 and September 7, no action was taken to prevent the mahapanchayat. “People come in tractor-trolleys to the mahapanchayat. It was quite possible to instruct all the police stations to stop all tractor-trolley movement and prevent the Jats from attending the mahapanchayat,’’ a senior policeman said on request of anonymity. “But our hands were tied.”

It is not true that the administration was not expecting violence. The entire jamboree of bureaucrats – the DGP himself, ADG Arun Kumar; SSP Praveen Kumar Tripathi and DM Kaushal Raj Sharma – were present at Sikhera when the mahapanchayat began. Even Anita Singh, secretary to CM Akhilesh Yadav, was aware. But clearly, the message from the political bosses was to take no decisive action.

The mahapanchayat saw a huge turnout. Arrangements were made for them to leave their tractor trolleys about two km away from the venue.

The atmosphere was charged. Jats on the tractor trolley were flashing their lathis, farm implements and were raising anti-Muslim slogans, whenever they passed the Muslim areas. The Muslims retaliated by showering stones and bricks from rooftops.

Many rallyists got injured on their way to the Mahapanchayat. This aggravated the situation more. On the dais were BKU leaders Naresh Tikait and Rakesh Tikait, all the Khap panchayats’ heads, BJP MLAs Suresh Raja, Sangeet Som, Kunwar Bhartendar Singh, former Lok Dal MP Harender Singh Malik, former BJP MP Sohanvir Singh, Chairman of the District Cooperative Bank Vandana Verma, Sangh Parivar’s Sadhavi Prachi and many more.

According to the FIR recorded at Sikhera police station, they made provocative speeches, seeking revenge for the killing of Gaurav and Sachin. The FIR booked 40 persons.

The mood was so charged that Muslim policemen either went on leave or removed their name-tag badges. The mob at Sikhera lynched a Muslim lensman, Israar, who was filming the mahapanchayat for the Muzaffarnagar police. The Sikhera police station, however, did not register any death. Policemen say Israar died of a heart attack.

However, hospital records in which his name is recorded as Isaar, say none of the victims brought as riot victim died of a heart attack.

Rallyists returning from the Mahapanchayat were attacked on their way back. Amit Kumar, a student and resident of Kakada, told Firstpost that the trolley was full of people and there was a sudden shower of stones from the rooftops of Muslim-dominated villages. Those who fell down from the trolley were killed.’’

About 49 deaths are confirmed and bodies are still being fished out from the canal. Majority of the people who died were Muslims (37).

When the mayhem began on September 7 after the mahapanchayat, Amir Alam Khan was in Lucknow with Mulayam Singh Yadav. “I had gone to Lucknow to discuss the situation and it is only at his instance that the army was called in,’’ Amir Alam Khan says.

Amir Alam Khan came back to Muzaffarnagar and he held his first press conference on 12 September, raising his voice for the first time. “The administration has failed miserably. The local administration, and bureaucrats in Lucknow, including CM Akhilesh Yadav’s secretary Anita Singh misled the party high command over the ground situation in Muzaffarnagar. Local SP MLA Anuradha Singh is also responsible for hobnobbing with BJP leaders,’’ Amir Alam Khan roared at his press conference, then settling down with no further explanation.

Simultaneously, the hate campaign went on unabated. The local administration was completely controlled by politicians from Lucknow. “Reports from local police stations, SSP and DM office to Lucknow and subsequent visits by seniormost police and administration officials from Lucknow is documented evidence that everyone was in the know about the hate campaign unleashed by political leaders and Khap panchayats. Only a CBI enquiry will further bring out the truth,” says a senior administration official.

“Rioting in the far-flung villages is very hard to fight. In fact, if a chopper was rather taken over these rioting villages to serve a warning, some lives could have been saved,’’ he adds. The chopper was instead used to ferry VVIPs and bureaucrats to Muzaffarnagar.

The country may never know how Israar was killed. Or whether the eight ‘unknown’ bodies, including that of a 10-year-old child, were ever identified. And whether the 25,000 Muslims who fled their homes will ever go back.

Scarred, the Muslim community is looking to the SP government for help, as indeed expected. And in their attempt to emerge as a messiah for the Muslims, the SP government is now allegedly making efforts to dilute FIRs.

At Kawal police station, two FIRs were registered on August 27. The first FIR was registered at 2.45 pm against eight accused, including Shahnawaz. And the second FIR was filed at 9.30 pm against eight accused, including Gaurav and Sachin, who were killed.

Both the FIRs cite a fight over motorbike accident as the immediate cause of fight and murder. Neither FIR mentions any sexual harassment. The ‘bahu-beti bachao’ slogan of the panchayats then appears inexplicable.
Only one person, Furkaan, has been arrested so far in the Kawal murder case. According to sources, the pressure on the Investigating Officer is on to remove names of accused from the first FIR on the pretext that they were not present in the village at the time of the incident.

On August 30, the Muzaffarnagar police station registered a case against BSP leaders for holding the Muslim gathering at which the DM and senior policeman were present. No arrests have been made yet.

On August 31, Sikhera police station registered two cases – one against 16 persons for unlawful gathering and another against eight men for burning a Wagon R and the attack on its Muslim occupants. On September 7, Sikhera police station registered another FIR against 40 persons, including BKU, BJP and RLD leaders.

For the 31 August panchayat, only nine arrests were made. No political leader has been arrested so far.

Investigating officers at these small police stations are under tremendous pressure. They have not carried out any investigations so far. They have just been writing their case diaries to fill in the details of the mahapanchayat before appearing in court for the next date.

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