Amid the baffling, dangerous inaction of the Uttar Pradesh government during the Muzaffarnagar violence and the communal build-up in the week before that, nobody missed the irony – the Samajwadi Party government that seemed blind to screaming warning signals had only recently suspended IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal, ostensibly because she ordered the razing of an under-construction wall at a mosque, during the holy month of Ramzan, 'endangering communal peace'.
On Sunday, a day after the suspended sub-divisional magistrate met Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, her suspension was revoked. No reasons were given, the enquiry report is still to be submitted, but reporters were quietly told that she may have ‘expressed regret’, apologized for her lack of administrative acumen.
Truth is, the Akhilesh government’s hypocrisy was evident then, and it is evident now.
In suspending an officer widely believed to be questioning the status quo of sand mafia bosses enjoying political patronage, the real motive of the government was clear. Now, under fire over the worst communal rioting in UP since 1992, the chief minister’s sudden decision to reinstate her remains suspect.
The move comes at a time when the government could not be in a more embarrassing corner.
Policemen have said they were pressurized to let off several men picked up for UP’s worst rioting since 1992. After much ado, Akhilesh eventually ordered arrest warrants against leaders who made inciteful speeches, predictably skipping any action against his own party leaders complicit in fuelling the violence.
Bharatiya Janata Party leaders who were eventually arrested, walked into jail to be greeted with folded hands by the jailor. And his government has not even begun to address the plight of about 40,000 residents of Muzaffarnagar who fled the violence and are living in makeshift tents in “refugee camps”, barely 200 km from New Delhi,
Let’s assume the reinstatement of Durga Shakti Nagpal is not any attempt to deflect attention. Still, the chief minister has chosen not to tell us whether she was given a clean chit.
If so, were the allegations that she was risking a riot baseless? Why not take to task those who complained about the demolition, including the senior Samajwadi Party leader who wrote to the chief minister repeatedly seeking that she be transferred? What about the MLA who claimed he had a hand in her expeditious suspension? And will we see some action against illegal sand mining?
Obviously, the Uttar Pradesh state government is trying to make symbolic amends without eating humble pie. There is no clean chit yet, the government has said – in fact the principal secretary-level enquiry report is still to come.
Which then brings us to why the suspension was revoked now?
A senior SP leader claims the SDM apologized for her lack of foresight, and also met party boss Mulayam Singh Yadav in August. If that is true, it only confirms popular suspicion that this is a feudal government where bureaucrats must bow before their political mai-baap to keep their careers on track.
Either way, the youngest chief minister of India’s most populous state has some answering to do.