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What Muzaffarnagar taught us: How low our parties can go

Azam Khan will contest and contest hard the content of a television sting operation that links him to the Muzaffarnagar communal riots. As one of the top leaders of the Samajwadi Party and a senior minister of the Uttar Pradesh government, he cannot afford to be seen as being involved.

However, if at all he is actually guilty of what he is being accused of - allowing the riots to spread by delaying police action - it should come as no real surprise. It is par for the course in the perverse communal politics in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere in the country.

 What Muzaffarnagar taught us: How low our parties can go

Policemen on patrol in an area where riots had recently taken place: AP

Now it is getting clearer that all parties - the SP, the BSP, the BJP and the Congress - played some role in the riots. It took a good 15 days for the SP government to act, the BSP and Congress leaders sided with the Muslim community and the BJP leaders were, as usual, busy playing the Hindu card.

Everyone was instigating the rioteers by their actions, overt or covert, and there was hardly any effort from them to ensure peace in the rural towns witnessing communal conflagration of this magnitude for the first time.

Everyone wanted the situation to fester.

With a big election around the corner, the political intention is no mystery. The SP, which has a weak presence in western Uttar Pradesh, a Rashtriya Lok Dal stronghold, had a vested interest in destabilising the Jat-Muslim vote bank of the latter; the Sangh Parivar has been trying to create a communal polarisation in the state to bolster the BJP’s case in 2014; and the BSP and the Congress have been trying to capitalise on the Muslim grievance against both the parties.

When such ‘high’ goals dictate political behaviour, the loss of lives - 49 in Muzaffarnagar so far - and the large scale displacement of people are hardly of significance. How cynical can it get!

Let’s face it. There’s nothing spontaneous about cases of long-drawn communal violence. These are planned in advance and planned well so that they last much longer than a normal street corner fisticuff between members of different communities.

There are commanders in place to lead foot soldiers during rioting and there is a hate-mongering machinery at work to maintain the emotional heat. And there’s always a design behind all this, which is almost invariably political. And yes, the success of the exercise depends on the calculated indifference, if not active or passive connivance, of the state governments concerned.

We have seen this pattern in Gujarat and other states too. Muzaffarnagar is only 478 km from UP's capital Lucknow. Had the government been serious it would have acted much quicker.

It is possible that with this communal incident the parties have achieved their primary objective. If they haven’t, they will simply wait for another such incident or a few more. The question the country should be asking at this point is who is accountable for the deaths.

The state government, under which over two dozen communal violence cases have taken place already in about a year-and-a-half, will not take the blame. Nor will the BJP, which has long been using the services of hardline Hindutva outfits such as the VHP and the Bajrang Dal to promote its cause, nor would the Congress which is no less culpable for taking advantage of communal situations.

Going by the experience in earlier cases, police action against these politicians - we last heard that a local court has issued arrest warrants against six politicians - is likely to go nowhere.

Azam Khan, the Muslim face of the SP and the minister in charge of Muzaffarnagar, won’t accept any charge of wrongdoing. "Such things aren't in my character, I would prefer dying rather than living such a life," he has said responding to the sting operation. His government has sprung to its defence, transferring the police officials quoted on the tape the day it became public. If only it had been as fast in addressing the communal tension.

BJP leader Uma Bharti has warned the government of dire consequences if any of the BJP leaders accused in the riots are arrested. Other parties will also soon find ways to defend the guilty.

It is a sorry situation indeed. Do we resign ourselves to accepting that people must be sacrificed in political games? In an ideal polity the answer would be no. But there is nothing ideal about our polity.

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Updated Date: Sep 19, 2013 07:03:31 IST