Since the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and its leader, Mulayam Singh Yadav, have been the political party of choice for Muslims in Uttar Pradesh. This came after the Ram bhakts had been fired upon by the police under orders from Mulayam in Ayodhya in 1990. Hindutva forces sarcastically conferred the title of “Mullah Mulayam” upon him. However, after Kalyan Singh left the BJP to join the SP, UP’s Muslim voters became disillusioned with the SP and voted for the Congress en masse, which resulted in the Congress winning 21 seats in the 2009 parliamentary elections.
But this dissatisfaction with the SP failed to persist, and in the 2012 assembly elections, they once again voted en masse for the SP, which helped the party to form a government in UP. The SP followed up by conferring several posts on Muslim religious and other leaders.
Since September last year, after Narendra Modi was declared the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, UP witnessed small communal riots allegedly instigated by Hindutva forces even before the riots that rocked Muzaffarnagar. The SP failed to control these riots, which many political analysts believe was a deliberate choice to ensure that Muslims would return to the SP in search of protection. Mulayam is thought to have felt that day-to-day communal tension might prevent the Muslims from moving towards the Congress in the forthcoming general elections if the SP were to play saviour in the aftermath.
However, Mulayam appears to have miscalculated in allowing the Chaurasi Kosi Parikrama in Ayodhya last year and entertaining the VHP leaders who visited his residence. First, the Hindutva forces were emboldened by this and second, Muslims started to suspect the SP’s motives. Their suspicions would have been strengthened after the riots in Muzaffarnagar, after which thousands of Muslims are estimated to have fled to relief camps.
The relief camps became the administrative, moral and political responsibility of the SP. They have now emerged as a political space for appropriating Muslim votes in the elections, evident from the visits of political leaders like Rahul Gandhi and Lalu Prasad. Their visits have made Mulayam insecure about the Muslim vote, but his own controversial statement made on December 24, after Gandhi’s visit to some relief camps, has further agitated Muslim voters. He said, “There are no riot victims at all in the camps. There is not even one. You can go and check. These are people who are conspirators. The BJP and Congress have conspired. They have asked people to stay there at night and protest. This is a conspiracy.” On January 4, he added the BSP’s name to the group.
Although the administration has promised to give compensation to the riot victims in the relief camps, they were ordered to vacate them. The victims who stayed there claim that many have not yet received the promised compensation and those who have will not be able to construct new houses right away. Many are also afraid to go back to their villages. But these people are being coerced to leave via police threats and the threat of cases being brought against them for encroachment. With winter coming, the problems of the victims have increased further, and the media spotlight on the conditions in the camps is adding weight to the perception that the current situation is a failure on the part of the SP administration.
Mulayam’s over-possessiveness and consequent insecurity regarding Muslims has brought the SP to a position where they have now become disillusioned with a party that is dependent on their votes. The conflict between the leaders of different Muslim sects supporting the SP and Muslim leaders within the SP can also be seen as a factor contributing to the stand taken by the SP on the relief camps. Clerics like the Shahi Imam Maulana Ahmed Bukhari of the Jama Masjid, Maulana Tauqeer Raza Khan of the Ittehad-e-Millat Council (IMC), etc, are opposed to Azam Khan, an important SP leader.
The Muzaffarnagar riots have also affected the SP’s Hindu vote. Reportedly, the RSS, VHP and BJP have circulated propaganda material claiming that the riots occurred to defend the honour of Hindu mothers and sisters. This has grossly affected the SP’s Yadav vote bank.
The party this turn of events most benefits is the Congress. It is planning a big rally in Meerut on January 21 on the Muzaffarnagar riots. On the other hand, the BSP is still irresolute on its stand. There are two reasons for this. The first is that the BSP leadership is alleged to have played a role in the riots, and MP Kadir Rana was arrested. Additionally, the Jatavs, Chamars and Bhangis, as also the Dalits living in those villages, sympathise with the Hindutva propaganda about the riots. As a result, the SP’s strongest opponent in UP, the BSP, is faced with a dilemma over this, while the SP is caught in the net of Hindu mobilisation. It remains to be seen how this political crisis is resolved.
The writer is professor, G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, University of Allahabad