By Omar Rashid

The 2014 elections were held in the wake of sharp communal polarisation triggered by the Muzaffarnagar riots. In 2019, BJP banked on the Pulwama attack and the Balakot airstrike. This year, the seeds of hatred sown in the past are doing their job.

Unlike the last two Lok Sabha elections, there is no overt communal factor playing out this time in Uttar Pradesh even though the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) campaign has been high on communally provocative rhetoric. However, travelling through parts of western Uttar Pradesh, where several districts have Muslim populations larger than the state average of 20%, one finds that the mistrust towards Muslims is still fuelling the saffron party’s prospects.
In 2014, the elections were held in the wake of sharp communal polarisation triggered by the Muzaffarnagar riots. The BJP furthered the communal divide and was able to cash in on the perception among Hindus that the Samajwadi Party government under Akhilesh Yadav sided with the Muslims during the incident. In 2019, the Pulwama attack and the Balakot airstrike, sold by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a strong response to Muslim country Pakistan, created an atmosphere of jingoistic frenzy, further widening communal fault lines. In 2024, there is no recent communal incident or event threatening to sharpen the Hindu-Muslim divide although the BJP has tried to seek votes in the name of Ram and engaged in communal rhetoric by misrepresenting the Congress’ election manifesto. However, the Opposition, especially the SP is still battling the baggage of its past rule.
Since west UP has a high population of Muslims, the BJP has over the years weaponised this demographic factor to communalise politics as well as elections to polarise Hindus against the minority community. Much of this has been communicated through the coded language of better law and order and dog-whistle tactics demonising Muslims.
While human rights activists have regularly criticised the Yogi Adityanath government for using extra-judicial means to tackle crime, suspected criminals and punish political opponents, especially Muslims, his policy, epitomised by use of bulldozers and ‘encounter’ killings, was a big draw among a section of Hindus. “There was a lot of badmashi earlier. During the Akhilesh Yadav government (2012-2017), Muslims would openly engage in hooliganism,” said Sonu Gautam, a Dalit shopkeeper who runs a sports garment store in Meerut. What’s notable is that Gautam is a non-BJP voter, inclined towards the Bahujan Samaj Party.
Travelling through parts of western UP, across rural and urban areas, we found two perceptions dominant among Hindu voters, especially those inclined to vote for the saffron party. One, they feel the BJP has put Muslims in their places through a more stringent implementation of law and order. Second, they believe that Muslims, by virtue of being economically marginalised, were benefiting the most out of the welfare schemes run by the BJP governments. Either way, their misgivings and prejudice towards Muslims remained intact.
Be it the Jat farmer in Muzaffarnagar’s Budana or the Brahmin shopkeeper in Meerut or the Saini tea-seller in Amroha, one view that united them was that the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government has crushed “goondagardi (hooliganism)” in the state. In most cases, these voters expressed their view on law and order through a blatantly-communal lens, projecting Muslims as the villains or criminals who have been put in their place by the government.
In another corner of Meerut, Ravikant Dikshit, a Brahmin shopkeeper and a die-hard BJP supporter, said goondagardi increased under the rule of the SP. “During their rule, Muslims with their chests pumped up, say ‘It’s our government’ and openly indulge in goondagardi,” said Dikshit.
Several Hindu voters appreciated the Adityanath government’s move to shut the Sotiganj ‘chor bazar’ where stolen vehicles were taken and their parts sold. Hindus believe the government’s move crushed illegal activities by Muslims.
Talking about his own experiences, Dikshit explained how difficult it was to do business in areas with Muslim vendors.
“Before this, bhaisaab, you could not do saudebaazi (business) with them in Begumpura. The fruit sellers would resort to badtameezi (misbehaviour) and speak rudely even if we asked them how much a fruit cost,” he said. “Now, all such jungli (wild) elements have been put in their place…be it Hindu or Muslim.” When asked what ‘put in their place’ (thikane laga diya) meant, Dikshit quickly toned down and replied, “I mean sent to jail.”
In Muzaffarnagar, which witnessed communal violence in 2013, several Kashyap voters narrated the same story that under the Adityanath rule, communal riots have become a thing of the past. Kashyaps are an OBC community traditionally associated with riverine activities.
“Loot mar se toh bachi rahe. Mehangai toh ayi rahi hain har cheez pe. Aaram se khet mein jao. Koi tension kuch nahi hain. Koi mar kaat nahi hain (At least we are safe from loot and violence. Inflation is natural to happen in all sectors. But now we can freely go to our fields. There is no worry. There is no violence),” said Chatrapal, a Kashyap farm labourer. He explicitly blamed Muslims for the fear he used to feel earlier.
Dhan Prakash, a Kashyap farmer, also expressed a similar view. “What’s the benefit of the BJP rule, you ask? We are safe from riots),” he said.
First-time voter Mahesh Kashyap, a labourer, said that Muslims are living in fear under the BJP rule. “Yogi ji has totally ended theft and other crimes. Our girls walk around freely now. Nobody stops them. During Akhilesh’s time they could not even cross this area and go to school,” he said.
When asked if he was happy that Muslims lived in fear, Mahesh responded: “Yes…I mean no. Yogi sarkar muslim ka bhi faida kar Rahi hain. Hindu log ka faida nahi kar Rahi. Sabka faida kar Rahi hain (Yogi government is also working for Muslims. It is not only benefitting Hindus. It is benefitting all).”
Some Jat voters we met in Muzaffarnagar also displayed a prejudiced view against Muslims, even if they were voting against the BJP due to local caste equations.
While they linked goondagardi to Muslims, they also believed that Muslims were benefitting the most from Modi and Yogi’s welfare schemes, especially free ration and pucca homes.
“Muslims are getting free ration. Unhe ke toh 13-13 bacche hain (They are the ones who have 13 kids),” said a Jat farmer. Another Jat trader, who held similar views, said that as a result of “corruption” under Modi, Muslims were benefitting the most from the PM housing scheme.
Incidentally, a few days after we spoke to this voter in Muzaffarnagar, Modi in a rally in Rajasthan referred to the Muslim population and said that the Congress was planning to redistribute wealth of Hindus to Muslims, “those who have more children.”
In Amroha, where the BJP banked heavily on communal polarisation, an OBC farmer Sarvesh Singh said the best outcome of the BJP rule was that it had ended “ladai-jhagda” and riots. “Earlier, there were too many conflicts. Now, the administration is very strict,” he said.
In the same city, Chandan Sen, a Saini tea-seller, while listing the benefits of BJP rule said that he was happy to receive free ration and cylinders but was most content that it had ended “badmashi.” “There was a lot of hooliganism earlier,” he said, sitting in his shop with two of his regular Muslim customers. I asked them what they thought about Sen’s thoughts and how they perceived the law and order under the BJP. They remained silent, their heads bowed. “We don’t want to discuss politics,” said one of them.

Courtesy: The Wire

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