Sir hamare yahan,ye western UP ke kuchch ilaake disturbed chal rahe hain. Ye BJP waale danga-fasaad karva rahe hain. Hamne force bheja hai (Sir there are these areas in western UP which have been disturbed for sometime. BJP men are organising riots there. We have sent forces).
This was what a casual and seemingly unflustered Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav told Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde around 2 pm on September 7,the day riots in Muzaffarnagar took a turn for the worse.
Sitting next to him on the lunch table while he took the call was Rajendra Chaudhary,the lone Jat minister in Akhileshs cabinet,who kept wondering if the situation had really worsened. When pointed out that this area was considered a stronghold of Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) leader Ajit Singh,Choudhary was quick to interject with a endorsing nod from his boss: No,Ajit Singh has nothing to do with this.
At no point did Akhilesh seem to think that the situation would get out of hand in a manner that the Army would have to be called in for the first time in over a decade to control a communal flare-up in Uttar Pradesh. It was a severe indictment of his administration,for this was not a riot that came like a bolt from the blue. It had been festering for a while,and Akhilesh as well as his officers were well aware of this.
His Director General of Police had just returned from the area a day before and told him matters were under control. Prior to that,a Senior Additional Director General of Police had been sent from Lucknow and deployed there specifically to handle the situation. Akhilesh was confident that the worst was over in Muzaffarnagaran assessment that would prove to be terribly wrong as the day wore on.
Such was Akhileshs confidence that the previous day,September 6,he had flown to Delhi to attend a NASSCOM event and even accompanied wife Dimple Yadav to the Lok Sabha for the last day of the monsoon session.
His big issue that evening had been fending off criticism for having got NASSCOM to hold its function in Delhi even though their building is to come up in Noida. This was done ostensibly because Noida is considered unlucky for Uttar Pradesh chief ministers. The one who visits Noida never returns to power,goes the belief in UP.
But I will go to Noida sometime soon, the young CM asserted on a chopper ride the next day,seeking to convey that he will live up to his progressive image.
September 7: 10.30 am
The day begins with something else on Akhileshs mind. He is keen to reach Barabanki to console his Rural Development Minister Arvind Kumar Singh Gop,who has just lost his mother. Along the way,he speaks about the state of national politics,particularly the prospects of a third front coming to power.
Just look around and you find a third front force in every state… And they can all come together, he says.
Akhilesh is confident of the stability of such a regime. Times have changed. Parties have learnt to work with each other. Who could have thought the Congress would be leading such a big coalition? Every party will know that they have a state government to protect and so will ensure stability at the Centre. This is not going to be like the past, he says.
Showing he has learnt the ropes,he dismisses all talk about his fathers ill-health with a loaded retort. Aisi koi baat nahin,he is fine… Dilli mein bhi logon ka health kharaab hai,magar idhar bukhaar bhi hota hai to news ban jaati hai (There is no such issue,Mulayams health is fine. People are also unwell in Delhi,but here,even if someone has fever,it becomes news).
He goes on to assert that while it is vital for his party to win as many seats as it can to attain greater leverage in any third front,there is one red line: I must say that for us,it has to be a secular front. We can talk to any party other than the BJP. Their outside support too is not acceptable.
So,isnt it ironic that for all its secular credentials,his state is the one witnessing a spike in incidents of communal violence? Look,the BJP and others want to communalise the environment. We have taken all the steps in our party to ensure there is no political interference at any level, Akhilesh asserts.
That is not borne out by facts. Administrative inaction is directly to blame for the Muzaffarnagar tension boiling over. No immediate arrests were made on August 27 right after two Jat boys were lynched for killing a Muslim boy,who had allegedly passed lewd remarks at a Jat girl. Later,as word got out that the district magistrate and superintendent of police had completed their initial inquiries and would be ordering arrests of some members of the Muslim community who instigated the mob violence,their transfer orders reached them first. A judicial probe is now looking at the decision.
In his report to the Centre,Governor B L Joshi raised the sudden transfer of the two officers,stating that their replacement by two new ones probably accentuated matters as they were not conversant with the dynamics on the ground. In fact,the Jat community saw this as outright political intervention in favour of the Muslims,which opened the window for political mobilisation by local BJP leaders.
As a judicial probe looks into it,what is quite clear is that UPs youngest CM has no qualms about old-school methods of transfer and suspension for protecting the partys key vote base interests. Raise the suspension of former Noida sub-divisional magistrate Durga Shakti Nagpal,and he says: Arrey,koi Ramzan ke waqt ja kar masjid ki deewar todta hai? Unko local panchayat se advice bhi mila tha ki is waqt mat kariye (Does anyone demolish a mosque wall during Ramzan? She was even advised by the local panchayat not to do so).
He stresses that was the problem and not illegal sand mining,against which she had taken some action. Akhilesh admits Nagpal had been one of his handpicked officers,whose cadre transfer from Punjab was done at his instance. Yes,her husband is of the UP cadre and I was the one who pushed her case,and sent her to Noida, he says as the chopper we are on,on our way to Barabanki,descends on a very dusty landing field.
Barabanki is a typical small town of UP,with bylanes just broad enough to accommodate a car. The sight of the CMs cavalcade whizzing past at high speed is a spectacle in itself,driving away any thought of the chaos engendered elsewhere in the town.
Akhilesh says he just had to be there. Arvind Kumar Singh Gop is an important Thakur leader of his party who,at one time,was a close aide of Amar Singh but chose to stay with the Yadavs when their break-up with Singh happened. Gop,obviously,shot up in the loyalty charts. A famed ex-president of the Lucknow University Students Union and close to Raja Bhaiyya,Gop is a man the SPs first family wants to keep happy. Never mind that a slogan that defines him since his university days goes: Din mein katta,raat mein tope,adhyaksh Gop,adhyaksh Gop (A country-made gun at day,a cannon at night,president Gop,
What can I say? This is our partys culture. We always make it a point to be there at such times. My father has always done it,my uncles too, Akhilesh says,pointing out that Gop had lost his mother.
Mulayam is known to visit peoples homes and show them importance,even if he cant do more for them some of the times. After all,Gop had to settle for a minister of state status because Azam Khan strongly objected to his elevation to cabinet rank.
As Akhileshs chopper takes off an hour later,he returns to the conversation on Nagpal,his point being that religious feelings cannot be ignored. We cannot be so insensitive. Officers have to take these things into account.
But still,why suspend her instead of,say,transfer? The message has to go down. Local people were quite agitated at what she had done.
As an inquiry report on her case waits with him,the word is out that she may be let off with a strong warning. But after the riots in Muzaffarnagar,the CM could reconsider options and timing.
Meanwhile,its past noon now,and still no urgency on Muzaffarnagar. Back in the district,thousands have gathered for the Jat mahapanchayat,for which permission had not been granted,and inflammatory speeches are being made. Soon,the body of Insar Vakeel would be discovered in the fields.
The next stop for Akhilesh is a golf city being built by the Ansals on the airport road near Lucknow. This is an integrated township where under the deal,the promoter is constructing two-room homes within the complex for economically weaker sections of society. This,Akhilesh says,was his idea and he is there to inaugurate the first batch of 9,000-odd homes for the poor.
I am all for private and foreign investment,but not in all sectors. Like FDI in retail is harmful to farmers. But look at what can be achieved with private investment in real estate. These cheap homes mean that people who want to move to cities for a better life can get a house in a city like Lucknow, he says as his chopper prepares to land.
His words take you back to Mulayams last tenure,when he set up the UP Development Council with top industrialists to attract private investment to the state. While figures never justified the effort,the fact is that it was during this period that the first big malls began to surface in the states cities. And just like Mulayam,who did not think twice before personally inaugurating some of these malls,Akhilesh too is politically quite comfortable amidst a luxurious golf city.
Ask him if he is an economic liberal,like his generation in politics is made out to be,and he borrows yet another leaf from his fathers book: Dekhiye,I am a Lohiaite,a socialist (See,I am a Lohiaite,a socialist),but not against private investment. My philosophy is that whatever you do,the poor must not be ignored.
The Ansal officials give him a tour of the township before the event begins. After the usual speeches,the CM hands over keys to 10 allottees.
On the road back to his 5,Kalidas Road residence,he stops at a bridge to look at a large tract of land with some unfinished construction. Not far from the Ansal project,this area had been allotted under the governments Lohia Awas Yojna to build homes for the poor. Do you see this? Nothing has come up there even though that land was allotted much earlier? The private people have moved faster, he nods.
The first signs of urgency over Muzaffarnagar have started to show. Gunshots have been heard around the Meenakshi Chowk in the town. The Rapid Action Force and police have begun patrols. IBN 7 stringer Rajesh Verma is shot. By 6 pm,the town is under curfew.
Akhilesh is told that the situation has gone out of hand and the Army would have to be called in. Orders are issued to get mobile phone signals jammed,just as had been done in 2010 ahead of the Allahabad High Court verdict on the Babri-Ramjanmabhoomi issue. But operators say they cannot do so without TRAI approval,which would take time. By 3 am on September 8,the Army has received orders to move into Muzaffarnagar.
September 8: 9.30 AM
The Army is in Muzaffarnagar. By this time the town is burning and all hands are on the deck,,including Mulayam. Akhileshs assessments have gone wrong,but the Yadav household stands together even as their trusted lieutenants such as Azam Khan launch a strong attack. First Mulayam with crisis management and then Ram Gopal Yadav with a stern message,all shield Akhilesh while pointing fingers at officials responsible for law and order.
The CM dismisses all talk of pressure from factions within his party. Do you see anyone telling me what to do? he says. I take my own decisions.
He may actually be right because as they seek to claw their way out of the Muzaffarnagar blow,Akhilesh realises what his role is,just as the others in the Yadav enterprise.
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