On 29 January, 2017, Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi held a joint press conference to formally announce a Samajwadi Party (SP) and Congress alliance for the upcoming Uttar Pradesh legislative Assembly elections. Not only the two leaders, but the media also termed this a ‘grand secular alliance’ against the communal and divisive politics of the BJP. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has been left out of this grand battle between the secular (SP plus Congress) and the communal (BJP).
Indian politics is followed with eyes and ears tuned to perceptions. Facts often fall to pieces along the way. The BJP is supposed to be the epitome of communal hate politics and anybody in opposition to it automatically gets the label of secular. It is this popular notion that helps Akhilesh to be easily termed secular.
He came to power by defeating the BJP. Being the son of Mulayam Singh Yadav also helped him market his image as a secular leader. Once the image stuck, people saw and believed whatever they wanted to. That is how perceptions are formed. It has little to do with reality. If one cares to look closely at the statistics, the secular image of 'grand secular alliance' is nothing more than a fallacy.
Riots in India since the 1920s have been used to push the minority communities to the periphery of society while ferrying them to patronising political parties. In essence, minorities have become single-issue voters focusing entirely on their security in society. The focus therefore shifts from education, employment and other markers of development in the face of the imminent threat of communal violence.
Any government has at its disposal a number of measures to maintain law and order when there is the likelihood of violence between two communities. An inability to control such violent situations that cause loss to material property as well as lives puts the blame on the government. Muslims and other minority communities look at the occurrence of riots as a direct attack on them as historically it is the minorities who suffer the most during communal violence.
Generally it is believed that Akhilesh is pro-Muslim or at least secular. This belief has nothing to do with data. There is sufficient evidence to point out that much of his image as 'secular' is fallacious.
Let us place his claim of being 'secular' leader under the acid test of statistics.
The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) compiles and publishes data of riots annually and has been doing so since 1953. If we look into the reports published by NCRB and analyse them, Akhilesh stands out as one of the most anti-Muslim chief ministers the state has ever had. The basis for this claim is the hypothesis that riots, in the state, are used as a tool to terrorise the community. The Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013 alone have seen more than 50,000 Muslims being uprooted from their homes forever.
The NCRB reports a surge in the incidences of riots during each year of his tenure. He took over from Mayawati as chief minister in March 2012 and we see a 13 percent jump in riots the same year over the previous one. There were a total of 5,676 riots reported in 2012 — that amounts to 7.6 percent of all the riots reported in the country that year.
The year 2013 saw an overall nationwide decline in riot incidents, but Uttar Pradesh reported 587 more than the previous year. With 6,089 riots, the state accounted for 8.5 percent of all the riots reported in India that year. While each year since 2012 has seen the country experience a decline in incidences of riots, Uttar Pradesh is reporting an annual increase and reported 6,813 riots in 2015 — that accounted for 10.5 percent of all the riots in India.
The above table clearly shows that under Akhilesh, the incidence of riots has increased exponentially as there is an overall decrease in riots across the country. To understand a little better how benevolent Akhilesh has been to the rioters in the state, let us compare his numbers with those of Mayawati who held the chief minister's post before him from 2007 to 2012.
The year 2011 was the only time when the number of riots went past 4,500 and that might be understood in the context of the Assembly election that was to come in January-February 2012. Just before elections, the state has historically been polarised along communal lines and riots are engineered for political gains. Interestingly, nobody is calling Mayawati secular or anti-communal in the run-up to the 2017 elections and she has been reduced to a Dalit leader trying to “woo Muslims”.
It is interesting to look at the other partner of the ‘grand secular alliance’. The Grand Old Party has been out of the power in the state since 1990. Under ND Tiwari, who is now with BJP, the Congress government returned with a whopping 9,818 riots in 1989. Although 1989 witnessed an overall national surge in the number of riots in the backdrop of the Ram Janmbhoomi Movement, Uttar Pradesh was home to 10.5 percent of the 93,518 riots that occurred in the country.
BJP is the only party whose record directly matches popular perception. The last time it formed the government in Uttar Pradesh under Rajnath Singh in 2001, the state reported 7,343 riots which was 9.7 percent of the national total. All the other parties are wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Uninformed minority voters are the only thing keeping SP and Congress’ secular credentials intact, in a public sphere where propaganda, fear-mongering and conflict escalation trump policy platforms and actual records of politicians and parties.
The author is a research scholar at JNU, New Delhi
Updated Date: Feb 04, 2017 09:47 AM