Nearly 30 months after Muzaffarnagar saw some of the worst communal riots in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP has begun invoking “the embers that spread” from the violence of 2013 and “made Narendra Modi the Prime Minister” to woo voters in the campaign for the assembly by-poll here on February 13.
Addressing an election rally on Thursday, state BJP executive committee member Umesh Malik said, “Lok Sabha ke chunav mein Muzzafarnagar se uthi chingari pradesh mein gayi, pradesh se pure desh mein gayi. Aap logon ke dwara banaye gaye desh ke pradhan mantri Narendra Modi aapke dwara chingari ke karan bane thhe. (During the Lok Sabha election, the embers that rose from Muzaffarnagar spread to the state, and from there to the entire nation. The embers that you created made Narendra Modi the Prime Minister). It is the issue of identity and your honour today.”
Local MP and Union Minister Dr Sanjeev Balyan at his side, Malik spoke about how leaders organised the contentious mahapanchayat of September 7, 2013, which eventually led to full-scale riots. “Friends, the mahapanchayat did take place. (The) entire planning was done in jail,” said Malik.
The BJP leader also claimed that “Narendra Modiji made Balyan a minister and sent (him) to you for (restoring) your honour”. The Prime Minister is often asked in private about Muzaffarnagar during his visits abroad, claimed Malik.
Malik and Balyan were detained before the riots by the state government.
In his speech, Balyan said, “It’s a very small election but will have a huge impact. If you have even a slight doubt, it will create problems. I know you will also regret later. But it won’t help then.”
The BJP candidate for the bypoll is Kapil Dev Agrawal, a trader, but he is completely overshadowed by riot-accused Jat leader Balyan and a strong team from his community.
People at the rally cite instances when “Dr Sahab” was prevented by the administration from visiting sensitive areas but insisted, even “defied bullets”, to “encourage his community”.
A measure of how seriously the BJP has taken these bypolls is clear from the firepower they have deployed in the campaign.
Union Minister Smriti Irani is scheduled to campaign soon. And apart from Balyan, the party is also deploying pro-Hindu faces from western UP such as MP Hukum Singh and MLAs Suresh Rana and Sangeet Singh Som to campaign. All of them have been named in cases related to the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013.
The bypoll was necessitated by the death of sitting Samajwadi Party MLA Chitranjan Swaroop last August.
According to Malik, “The first phase of the last Lok Sabha election was held here. The area had seen riots. There was one-sided (government) action. Innocents were sent to jail. Sanjeev Balyan and I spent 22 days in jail. The message from here had gone to the entire state and country, as a consequence of which Narendra Modi is the Prime Minister.”
The honour of “bahu-beti” is another contested issue here as Balyan speaks about the recent instances of crime against women allegedly perpetrated by members of another community. “Bahu-beti ke samman mein, BJP maidan mein (BJP is in the fray to protect the honour of daughters-in-law and daughters),” is the BJP slogan.
“Muzaffarnagar can have any other kind of crime, but it has never tolerated crime against women. People are hurt and angry. The SP government invokes the National Security Act (NSA) on anyone who merely slaps a person… but here rape-accused go scot free,” said Balyan. “If you appease one group, others will get angry. People are angry,” he added.
According to Malik, “The recent instances of gangrapes seem planned by the persons of a particular community. Our mothers and sisters are tricked and shown false dreams in a well-planned manner by members of a particular community. They are later blackmailed. These persons are being sheltered by the SP.”
Malik added that “entire India” now looks at Muzaffarnagar. “When the Prime Minister visits other countries, people there ask him when he retires in his room… Modiji, Muzaffarnagar mein kya hua tha (What happened in Muzaffarnagar)?”
“If you win him this election, mothers and sisters can move freely in the city. Muzaffarnagar will be liberated,” said Malik.
The BJP’s line of campaign has drawn reactions on expected lines from its rivals. SP leader Rashid Siddiqui blamed the BJP and RSS for “disturbing the atmosphere”. Congress candidate Salman Sayeed said, “Everyone knows that the SP and the BJP were equally complicit in the riots.” Sayeed, incidentally, was accused of inciting communal passions during the riots.
The sharp communal overtones in the campaign has triggered concern among voters, including BJP supporters.
At the home of SP candidate Gaurav Swaroop, a Muslim journalist said that “the 2013 riots pushed this city 20 years back but our leaders are still not satiated”.
A BJP block in-charge, who accompanies Agrawal on his campaign, said, “Riots destroyed business, farming, relations between community — everything.”