When Muzaffarnagar faced riots in 2013, the neighbouring Deoband, another Muslim-dominated area with the seat of the seminary Dar-ul-Uloom, remained quiet. Deoband does not see communal clashes, but BJP believes that the February 13 byelection here is a fight “between Hindus and Muslims”.
The party candidate, former RSS Pracharak Rampal Singh Pundhir, asserts his agenda: restoration of Hindu pride vis-a-vis Muslims.
Pundhir says that if he gets elected, “Ek bhay hoga unke andar. Hamara terror hoga unke upar, unke gundon par (Muslims will feel scared. They and their hooligans will feel our terror)”. In the same breath, Pundhir, who has been in the jail for an attempt to murder, claims Hindus “don’t have hooligans.”
The sentiment in BJP rallies in Muzaffarnagar and Deoband is clear: nearly two years after BJP came to power at Centre on what it claimed was a vote for development, the party continues to propose that Hindus are threatened by Muslims. Both seats were vacated after deaths of SP MLAs.
“This election has become a fight between Hindus and Muslims because Hindus are unsafe. The honour of mothers and daughters is threatened. Hindu traders face theft, dacoity. They are murdered. Deoband mein kisi Hindu ki himmat nahi hai ki kuch bol jaye (No Hindu has guts in Deoband to speak out),” says Pundhir, surrounded with supporters at Badgaon where he inaugurated his election office.
“When our government (in UP) comes in 2017, we shall see how dare they commit atrocities,” he says.
Claiming that “Hindu gets cowed down, their leadership is napunsak (impotent)”, he details his agenda for restoring the Hindu pride: “Deoband has a locality — Reti Chowk. Wahan par Hindu dab kar nikalta hai. Jab hum Vidhayak banenge, chhati ka button khol kar niklenge us sthan se,” he says.
A visit to Reti Chowk throws a completely different picture. It’s a crowded market, a mosque in between, with Hindus occupying nearly forty per cent of shops. Most of them are here for decades, but none of them remembers any communal incident except some clashes after Babri mosque demolition.
“Threat to Hindus? Who said? May be due to elections, some people are spreading lies,” says Praveen Kumar of Praveen Jewellers.
Curiously, an election pamphlet of Pundhir is pasted at Kumar’s shop. He’s a BJP voter, not a member though. “
“I am here for 35 years. Muslims and Hindus live here in harmony,” says Rajiv Kumar of Rajiv Medical Store.
The BJP doesn’t believe this. Pundhir says “Hindu traders are migrating out of fear” and “he will prevent their migration”. He says he will disclose his “special strategy” for restoring Hindu pride once he becomes MLA.
A BJP hoarding in Muzaffarnagar, with a photograph of MP Sakshi Maharaj blowing the conch, elaborates party’s strategy: “Samjhauta nahi, samman chahiye.”
Another agenda is bringing end to cow slaughter. “Several hundred cows are slaughtered daily in Muslim areas of Deoband,” Pundhir says, and asserts that “Hum ayenge to prano ki bazi laga denge, gau hatya bilkul nahi hone denge”.
He proudly narrates a 2007 incident when a Rs 500-crore “slaughterhouse of some Khan was razed under his leadership”. “Many Hindus and Jains led a movement, but the slaughterhouse continued. Under my leadership, it was razed to dust,” he adds.
Curiously, though “its board read —- only mutton”, he asserts that “cows were also slaughtered there.”