The Uttar Pradesh government has done well to suspend the district magistrate and senior police officials for failing to enforce law and order and stanch the violence in Saharanpur. Tensions had been simmering between Dalits and Thakurs in the area for nearly a month. Prompt intervention by the local administration at the outset may well have saved lives and prevented communal polarisation.
On Wednesday, a team of senior bureaucrats, including the state home secretary, arrived in the district to monitor law enforcement. Twenty-four people of the Thakur community were arrested for assaulting Dalits, who had gone to attend a BSP rally. These steps, hopefully, will send out the right signals across the administration and the people, that the government will not brook any attempts to disturb the peace.
The region of Western UP, including Saharanpur, has been visibly uneasy since 2013 — several incidents of communal violence have been reported from the region. Successive elections and brutish campaigns, like the one against “love jihad” and for cow protection, have polarised communities. Political parties have backed their preferred constituencies instead of making efforts to calm tempers and restore peace. The singular task before the Yogi Adityanath government now is to repair frayed communal relations in the region. This is especially so since the Yogi’s own ascent to power has the potential to further sharpen these tensions.
The fact is, Adityanath has been seen to be a face of the Hindu hardliners in the state and it’s probable that his supporters now feel emboldened to aggressively champion their political agenda. The formation of the BJP government with a decisive majority also seems to have triggered a redrawing of social equations at the grass roots. Communities which felt left out of the power structure or those that had to yield space to groups previously on the margins, are now looking for ways to reassert themselves, if not to dominate.
The Thakur-Dalit confrontation in Saharanpur points at such faultlines, where the former appears uncomfortable with political assertion by the latter. The rise of the SP and BSP had empowered the backward classes and the Dalits and undermined older hierarchies. The BJP too recalibrated its politics in the state and undertook a creative social engineering to win office. The leadership now needs to signal to its cadres that reviving older confrontations cannot be the way forward in a state looking for development and change.
The challenge for the Adityanath government is to back its show of administrative firmness with a forward-looking politics. The events in Saharanpur threaten to widen old communal faultlines in the state. If it wants to live up to its mandate, the government must fully dispel fears that it will not be even-handed in its conduct and win the trust of all communities.