By Subhajit Sengupta
As a student of media, watching Western movies was a compulsory part of the curriculum, and probably one of the few compulsory papers which I enjoyed too. The violence, the gun shots, petrol bombs lobbed inside buildings made for some great cinema... Not to speak of the tough terrains and the rugged anti-heroes. But all this comes back to you in a certain eerie way when you cover the Wild West of Uttar Pradesh.
The state has one of the highest per capita gun density in the country. The Munger-Meerut route is infamous for its illegal gun racket and a walk through the sugarcane farm would give you an idea of the anonymity it allows you. The stage thus is set.
Now comes the machinery of hate, an idea which is bereft of any moral construct but can be explained extremely well from the narrow prism of electoral politics. Mix them in and boom ... You have a highly volatile Western Uttar Pradesh where the fire hasn't stop burning in the last two years.
Muzaffarnagar wasn't the first communal flare up in UP; it was probably the 60th. And if the state administration doesn't mend its ways, Saharanpur certainly won't be the last.
Though all political parties have their agents of hate, unless you have a callous state government or one which actively colludes in the violence, riots cannot occur. If the administration so desires, any situation can be contained. The same UP saw no riots during the 5 year reign of Mayawati. Mind you, not a single instance even after the contentious Allahabad High Court order on Ramjanmabhoomi- Babri Majid dispute came.
Alas, same cannot be said about the present Akhilesh Yadav government.
Here in Saharanpur, one of the key local intelligence officers tells me that by 5 am on Saturday morning, it was clear that the situation could go out of hand but additional forces weren't brought in. By 7:30 am it was mayhem on Gurudwara road and Qutub Sheher circle. By the time additional forces came in, it took them 4 hours to bring the situation under control. By then, around 150 shops were gutted, 3 lives lost and over 30 injured.
So far 22 FIRs have been filed in the matter, 2 being for the murders and rest for arson, rioting, vandalism etc. Over 80 arrests have been made and the main accused in this case -- former Congress Councilor Moharum Ali Pappu -- has been booked under the stringent National Security Act on Wednesday evening. Saharanpur SSP Rajesh Kumar Pandey says, "He is the main conspirator in the case. Pappu has been mentioned in atleast 20 FIRs as the one who incited the mob".
There are a number theories floating in Saharanpur's curfew(ed) air as to what led to the riot. Some blame it on the infamous Imraan Masood- Pappu nexus who now want to join the Samajwadi Party (Masood contested on Congress ticket and came second to BJP's Raghav Lakhan Pal). This move is resented by the SP leaders Rasheed Masood and his son.
The other and more plausible cause seems to be the battle for possession of the markets on the Ambala road. This road, which divides the old and the new Saharanpur, is the gateway to Uttarakhand and hence economic prosperity via wholesale business. While this has remained in possession of the local Punjabi community, Pappu and his men allegedly have an eye for it. The pending assembly by-poll just made the situation even more conducive.
I met Pappu at his house. He claims he has a stay from Allahabad High Court on the construction on that disputed property (which is untrue as he had withdrawn his petition). But every time we asked about the arson and how he justifies it, he took shelter behind religion and rhetoric. Something a number of unsuspecting youth fell for -- it seems -- on that fatal Saturday morning.
But when there are riots, can the politicians be behind?
Imraan Masood of the Congress is at the centre of it, while SP works behind the scene by using the state machinery. For the BJP, this has come just at the right moment. Its attempt to mobilize cadres in Moradabad failed with two of its important demonstrations turning into a flop show. In fact, after the 7th July violence in Kanth, where the Moradabad SSP directly blamed BJP for the rampage, the party failed to maintain the momentum, much to the glee of the Samajwadi party. In fact, BJP MLA Suresh Rana ,who is a member of the fact-finding team sent by the party, claims that the scale and the planning involved in it shows that this could also be handiwork of a terrorist organization.
But Rana himself was arrested post the Muzaffarnagar riots for inciting the mob. He along with another MLA Sangeet Som and Sadhvi Prachi were prominent faces of the banned Mahapanchayat which finally culminated in a violent riot. Sadhvi Prachi’s speech was especially vitriolic. I met her when she was hiding to evade arrest in the house of a fellow VHP leader. Off the record she candidly agreed about the political motive of her inflammatory speech. She said that she won’t mind going to jail if it gets her the party’s ticket to contest parliamentary polls. Thankfully, good sense prevailed within the party and she was denied the same. But it went instead to another riot tainted leader, Hukum Singh.
The circle of violence in western UP has always peaked around the polls. Both Moradabad and Saharanpur are likely to see assembly by-polls within next two months. The big Uttar Pradesh elections are due in 2017, which means Western UP will remain on the boil for a while.
Updated Date: Aug 01, 2014 07:54 AM