The Justice Vishnu Sahai inquiry commission report blames the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, the first large outbreak of communal violence in the country since Gujarat 2002, on intelligence failure and the inefficiency of local officials. To be sure, these factors contributed to the killing and displacement — at least 62 persons died and thousands lost their homes. But there is a glaring omission in the report: It downplays the role of the political class, its failure to prevent the violence from taking place and in letting it flare out of control. The report is also silent on the failings of the upper echelons of the Akhilesh Yadav government, which was too slow to respond when mobs took over large stretches of western UP. Lucknow failed in enforcing the law and maintaining peace. Officials on the ground certainly need to be punished but officers and ministers in the state capital cannot escape responsibility for the government’s many failures and abdications framed in Muzaffarnagar.
By all accounts, politicians with an eye on the next election played a role in the escalation of hostilities between two communities after the deaths of three young men in a village. The situation may have been brought under control by not just swift administrative action but also prompt and wise political intervention, but the government chose to let the fires simmer and feed the election campaign some months later. Leaders across parties worked up the insecurities of citizens on both sides of the communal divide, and hoped to benefit from the resulting polarisation. BJP leaders spoke about “izzat (honour)”, “apmaan (insult)” and “badla (revenge)”. Sanjeev Balyan
and Sangeet Som have been accused of promoting fake videos and rumours to polarise communities. Leaders from the BSP and the Congress, like Kadir Rana and Imran Masood, used inflammatory language. In UP, the ruling SP’s version of secularism has often ended up exacerbating the mistrust between communities. This was played upon by all the parties in Muzaffarnagar to make the September 2013 conflagration, which rendered vast numbers from the minority community homeless, into an episode that shamed the nation.
The action taken report of the SP government, submitted along with the Justice Sahai report in the assembly on Sunday, also glosses over the complicity of political parties in fostering a climate of hate. The state government’s laxity in pursuing riot cases has already led to witnesses turning hostile. The Akhilesh administration’s reluctance to be firm with rioters has emboldened local leaders to continue to use inflammatory language. The reluctance of governments to investigate and act firmly against the guilty, no matter who they might be, explains why Muzaffarnagar is a syndrome.