No one uses the Muslims more callously than the Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh Yadav and now, his son Akhilesh Yadav, in the belief that their absurd utterances will consolidate the minority vote without which the party will not be able to survive the travails of politics in India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh (UP). This time around, they have sought to justify the suspension of a young bureaucrat, Durga Shakti Nagpal, by insisting that this was done because she had brought down part of the boundary wall of a mosque and the decision was creating communal tension in the area. And hence, somehow, the Muslims were made responsible for the authoritarian decision and brought into the firing line by a state government that lives off such religious polarisation.
Reporters, who visited the village, wrote about how the minorities did not want to be part of this controversy and that there was no communal tension in the Muslim majority village about the mosque. And as subsequent reports have established, the reason for Durga’s suspension was her strong action against the sand mafia that has been carrying out large-scale illegal mining in the area, with the clear connivance of the political bosses. In fact, this young IAS officer had created waves in the riverside villages of Noida and Greater Noida by cracking down on the sand mafia, seizing their trucks and ensuring that the illegal activity was stopped. With her suspension now, the sand mining has resumed after a brief hiatus, with the sand feeding into the frenetic construction activity in New Delhi. Judging from the action against her by the UP chief minister, it is clear that she was coming in the way of this highly lucrative business and the state leadership was looking for the first opportunity to act against her.
It is significant that Akhilesh Yadav has not seen it fit to take any action against those responsible for the Shia-Sunni clashes that have destroyed the peace in Lucknow after a long time. The bureaucrats and police officers responsible for maintaining law and order are usually handpicked by the political party in power and clearly, the slow reaction and the failure to sense the building up of tension and take preventive measures is not reason enough for action against erring officials. The Samajwadi Party is aided in this ‘defence’ of the minorities by one Mr Azam Khan, who has an off and on relationship with the Yadav family, but manages to do sufficient damage to secularism by his absurd positions.
Protests against the suspension of Durga are escalating into a nationwide stir and it remains to be seen whether the state government will revoke its order. At the time of writing, the chief minister had dug in his heels, maintaining that he will not succumb to pressure by the bureaucracy. This political versus bureaucrat face-off can have interesting repercussions, particularly as political parties’ interference in honest bureaucratic functioning has increased all over the country.
Meanwhile, Mulayam Singh Yadav and his son will do well to revise their brand of politics. The Muslims have been supportive of the Samajwadi Party in UP for want of a better option, but this rather juvenile brand of minority politics does more harm than good. More so, UP will be the target of communal forces in the coming general elections, with former Gujarat chief minister Amit Shah already in place to stir up the Hindutva agenda. The Yadav duo and Azam Khan make for a potent brew, as clearly their interest is not in strengthening Indian secularism, but in terrifying and consolidating the minority vote in their favour. Ironically, instead of the old RSS versus Jamaat-e-Islami counter that worked well for both these fundamentalist organisations during communal riots, we have in UP today the BJP and the Samajwadi Party representing the two extremes in a bid to capture power in this huge state that returns 80 members to parliament.
It is time that Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav came out from under his father’s shadow and showed the state and the country that he has the potential to strike a new path. Secularism through which alone India can remain a vibrant democracy, cannot work through polarisation. It needs to be strengthened through bold, inclusive, courageous and constitutional decisions that unfortunately our political class seems incapable of. All that matters is victory at the polls and the rest is ‘collateral damage’.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 3rd, 2013.
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