In Muzaffarnagar, BJP-ABVP have taken out no marches on the JNU issue so far, nor burnt any effigies, as they have in Varanasi or Faizabad. But look closer in this small town where BJP posters proclaiming “Mission 2017” are already making an appearance and it’s there to see: quietly, but surely, the JNU issue is providing grist to those who last stoked memories of the communal conflagration here in 2013 in the bypoll campaign in February.
For all the BJP’s talk of “vikas”, development, its winning candidate in Muzaffarnagar, Kapil Dev Aggarwal, fought the election on the slogan: “Bahu beti ke samman mein, Kapil Dev maidan mein”. And: “Doodh or bread kahan batega, iska nirnay aap karein”.
The burden of that second slogan was not lost on its intended audience, the Hindus of Muzaffarnagar: it played upon insinuations that then SP MLA and minister of state for minority welfare, the late Chitranjan Swaroop, had favoured Muslim mohallas in the distribution of relief and provisions when communal violence scorched this part of western UP in 2013, forcing large numbers of the minority community to take shelter in relief camps for many months in the harsh winter.
On JNU, Aggarwal now says: “The country’s politics is moving towards a juncture where parties can go to any extent to win votes, they can even support those who talk of playing with the country’s self-respect and integrity. It is anti-national to raise slogans like those at JNU but it is worse to support those who do so. Today, it is India versus Pakistan within the country, not just on the borders”.
Strict action must be taken, he says, against those who have expressed support to the students of JNU — “it is wrong that Rahul Gandhi went there”. No leniency must be shown, he says, or this will spread, as it did, “in Punjab, Assam”. “There should be a high-level probe to find out who planned this, and from where came the internal support”.
He will soon get a “recording” that will reveal who “motivated” the JNU students, Agarwal smiles, declines to give details. Instead, he offers a theory: “Those who don’t like the BJP government, don’t like Modi ji, that he is winning accolades abroad, those who want to undermine him. They misled the students at JNU.”
In Aggarwal’s telling, the “they” in the JNU story is now the students, then their supporters, and then the Modi government’s political opponents. But eventually, “they” are the Muslims: “The community should come forward, to identify and isolate those who are terrorists”, he says. “Responsible Muslims should stand against terror. Only 5 to 10 per cent do so. This should be large-scale, tab hi vishwas hoga, (only then there will be trust). Had the Muslims in Godhra, and in the country, stood up against the crime (burning of kar sevaks in the train), the reaction (Gujarat riots of 2002) would not have happened”, he says.
Aggarwal does not say it, but his senior colleague in the BJP, Sohan Veer Singh, former two-term MP from Muzaffarnagar, spells it out: the JNU video, that had gone viral before the voting for the bypolls, helped Aggarwal win. Incidentally, this is contested by leaders of non-BJP parties in Muzaffarnagar who point to the abstention of the BSP, and the transfer of its vote to the BJP, as the decisive factor.
“It (JNU) certainly affected the bypolls”, says Sohan Veer Singh. “In 2014, the Modi wave separated the desh bhakts (patriots) from the others. People know about the Congress and the Communists, that they started making pacts with the Muslim League not long after Partition. That memory was revived in JNU.”
For Sohan Veer Singh, the JNU episode is as much about “day-and-night appeasement” as “anti-nationalism”. “What else is support for slogans that call for the dismemberment of the country to the chorus of Insha Allah, Insha Allah?” he asks. “Look at Pakistan, how they treat Hindus. Look at Bangladesh, how they turn out Hindus. And Kashmiri Pandits. They don’t feel their pain…. Kanhaiya was speaking their (the appeasers’) language”, he says. “Pakistan tortured Sarabjit, but here Kasab was well fed. The world is laughing at us.”
Across the city, Nitin Malik, businessman and UP West secretary of the BJP’s youth wing, the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, draws a more direct connection: between the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013 and events in JNU. “Rahul Gandhi came to Muzaffarnagar and said that the ISI is in touch with people in the relief camps. Now he is saying he supports the students of JNU. He is the link”, he says.
Malik also says that “sanvaidhanik lacheelapan” or constitutional flexibility, must not be allowed to come to the aid of the JNU students and their supporters, including the teachers who have stood by them. “A special law must be enacted specifically to punish those who have extended support to the anti-national elements in JNU”, he says.
Malik has riot-related cases still pending against him, in which not a single hearing has taken place more than two years later, and he also went to jail. So did Sanjay Agarwal, district general secretary, Muzaffarnagar BJP.
He has been responsible for the “ghar wapsi” of “94 plus” Muslim girls so far, boasts Agarwal, in his drawing room, in his house in South Civil Lines. The problem in JNU did not happen suddenly, he says, “it is about 30-40 years old”. He offers a farming metaphor: “If a mango tree gets diseased, it will not do to just cut off an affected branch”. For him, the “core issue” that must be addressed is this: “Anti-national forces lie within. The Leftist stream of thought that has been dominant in JNU does not prioritise the good of the nation. Just look at how they have destroyed Bengal. Then there is the Islamist way of thought, which is similar to Leftism — both talk of socialism, neither has place for nationalism.”
The JNU episode represents a new turn in the national debate, says Agarwal. “The links of terror are right here. Who arranges for the hotel, the weapons, the passport? Look at the number of people from Pakistan caught in cases of terror”, he says. “Who were they sheltered by? It was our Muslim brothers who did it.”