The politics of riots in India

UP will vote along communal lines in coming elections, just as it did in the aftermath of Babri Masjid’s demolition.


Aakar Patel October 26, 2013
The writer is a columnist. He is also a former editor of the Mumbai-based English newspaper Mid Day and the Gujarati paper Divya Bhaskar [email protected]

The riots in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar district, in which 62 Indians died (42 Muslim and 20 Hindu), will accrue to the benefit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The violence came after skirmishing over the sexual harassment of a girl, which escalated into a conflict between Muslims and Jats that continued for days as the state struggled to put out the flames.

The reason that the rioting will work to the advantage of the BJP has to do with the nature of both, riots and voting. Community participation is a fact of the Indian riot, just as it is of voting. It is a disturbing fact, but it is true.

And we can demonstrate this through the events in Gujarat.

When a couple of years ago, courts finally began to convict the murderers of Gujarat’s 2002 riots, a remarkable fact emerged, which could be observed in the names of the convicted men. All the nine men guilty of murdering three Dawoodi Bohras in Malva Bhagol were Patels. All the 21 men convicted of a large massacre in the same village of Odh were found to be Patels. In Sardarpura village of Mehsana district, 31 men were jailed for the murder of 11 children, 17 women and five men. Of these murderers, 30 were Patels.

In another massacre in Dipda Darwaja area of Visnagar, the accused included BJP legislator Prahlad Patel. The case was initially dropped after the police, under officer MK Patel, deliberately made a hash of investigations. Three women, all Patels, were accused of assisting in the killing.

Of the 20 men convicted in the case, 19 were Patels.

The Gujarati Hindutva movement is led by men like Praveen Togadia (who is a Patel) and Babu Bajrangi, also a Patel. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad in the state was controlled by Jaideep Patel.

The Patels are the dominant peasant caste of Gujarat and the equivalent of the Reddys in Andhra Pradesh, the Gowdas in Karnataka, the Jats in Punjab and Haryana, the Kurmis in Bihar and the Patils in Maharashtra.

Whenever there is violence between Hindus and Muslims, whether it is created by the BJP (as it did during the 1992 movement against the Babri Masjid) or through other events (as happened with the riots in Gujarat), the result is a polarisation. The votes of the rioting Hindus tend to go to the BJP, while the Muslims look for a defensive option. In Gujarat, the caste that has put and kept the BJP in power for two decades is the Patidar community of the Patels. This caste dominates every BJP cabinet and Narendra Modi is actually the leader of the Patels, just as Mulayam Singh is the leader of Muslims in UP.

In Uttar Pradesh, the Jats, who are seething from the riots, will queue up behind the BJP in 2014. This will take the party over the top because it has already locked in the upper caste vote in the state. The addition of the Jat peasantry to its caste coalition will make the BJP the party to beat.

On the other hand, the Muslims will be terrified by the thought of Narendra Modi coming to power at the centre. The first thing they will do is abandon Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, which they have been voting for, because it is pragmatic and can ally with the BJP.

The Congress might benefit because the Muslims will also be angry with their old friend Mulayam Singh, whose son is UP’s chief minister, for allowing the riot to escalate.

In all communal violence across India, 107 people died this year, of whom, 66 were Muslim and 41 Hindu. This is a small number given the size of India’s population and the scale of violence in the states surrounding it. But it is a divisive violence.

Even though the thought is unpleasant, the reality is that UP will vote along communal lines in the coming election, just as it did in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid’s demolition.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 27th, 2013.

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COMMENTS (33)

rasgullah | 8 years ago | Reply

So Muslim consolidation is good, but hindu consolidation is bad.

Iceman | 8 years ago | Reply

And the icing on the cake - the PM and Rahul Gandhi go and meet only the muslim riot victims, as if there was no hindu victims.

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