POLITICS

'I Lost My Home In Muzaffarnagar Riots. I Will Vote For Akhilesh'

In riot-affected areas, Muslims are no longer angry with Samajwadi Party, don't trust Mayawati

03/02/2017 12:32 PM IST | Updated 03/02/2017 4:12 PM IST
SHIVAM VIJ / HUFFINGTON POST INDIA

MUZAFFARNAGAR: Mohammed Hashim, 27, still hasn't moved into a house of his own, over three years after the Muzaffarnagar riots. He can't recall the month, but it was the night between 7th and 8th in Kakda village some time in 2013. His family realised their house had been set on fire, they woke up and ran to Muzaffarnagar town, and from there to his relatives in Navla village.

"I went back to our house in Kakda the next morning and saw everything there had been looted. They didn't leave a single thing," he says. The arsonists were Jats and Sainis he says, even claims to have seen two people from the Saini community amongst the arsonists. "I knew them, they were our neighbours."

The holy book in the mosque, he says, was desecrated, and buffaloes tied in its premises. Now it is locked, no Muslims live in Kakda.

The Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013, along with hundreds of riots and small incidents of Hindu-Muslim violence across Uttar Pradesh, are a black spot on the regime of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav. The violence in Muzaffarnagar alienated both Hindus and Muslims from the Samajwadi Party.

The holy book in the mosque, he says, was desecrated, and buffaloes tied in its premises. Now it is locked, no Muslims live in Kakda.

But Hashim, like all the Muslims in his neighbourhood, says he will vote for the Samajwadi Party. He was forced to sell his house in Kakda for a paltry forty thousand rupees, but soon received a compensation of Rs 10 lakhs from the state government. With that money he bought a plot of land in Navla, where his relatives live, and has been building a house. Construction has stopped because he's run out of money, but it is nearly complete.

How is he voting for the Samajwadi Party? Wasn't the SP government's poor handling of the events in 2013 responsible for the escalation of violence, and thus his plight? "How was SP responsible? It was sparked by BJP supporters, they made us fight. It was a well-planned riot to help make Modi prime minister. Otherwise we lived peacefully," says Hashim.

But Hashim, like all the Muslims in his neighbourhood, says he will vote for the Samajwadi Party.

Hashim is one of five brothers, four of whom are married, and then their mother lives with them. But only two brothers received compensation, Rs 5 lakhs each. Isn't that another example of the SP government's insensitivity? "It wasn't their fault. The Jat pradhan of Kakda wrote only two of our names as people who were displaced," says Hashim.

'Dalit betrayal'

Why is he not voting for the Bahujan Samaj Party? After all, the BSP's regime doesn't see such riots. Law and order, most people agree, is better. Mayawati is making a strong pitch to Muslim voters this time, speaking on issues of their concern a lot more. She's vehemently opposing the BJP.

"After the 2013 riots the Akhilesh government gave us compensation and we are able to move on with our lives. But the BSP, not a single leader or worker from her party ever visited us."

Who did he vote for in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections? "Mayawati!" he says, "That's what. In 2014, we voted Mayawati as we were upset with the SP. But the Dalit voters here, they voted for Modi, and our vote was wasted. Mayawati's voters let us down in 2014, how do we trust them this time?"

Many Dalit voters, in Muzaffarnagar and elsewhere in UP, tell you they voted for Modi in 2014.

Many Dalit voters, in Muzaffarnagar and elsewhere in UP, tell you they voted for Modi in 2014. In Navla village, Dalits admitted the Hindu-Muslim polarisation following the riots made them vote for the BJP, apart from Modi's promise of development.

That's not all. Hashim's relatives insist they like Akhilesh Yadav for the development work he has delivered on. Someone in the family got a laptop, someone got "Kanya Vidya Dhan".

Hindu Raj

Kakda village, where Hashim once lived, is 15 kilometres and a lifetime away. On the way to Kakda, we see a shop that sells stickers and number plates for automobiles. There's a sample number plate with a gun on it. "UP 20 AK 47," it reads. There's a sticker for motorcycles that reads "Hindu Raj". The shopkeeper says they are in great demand.

SHIVAM VIJ / HUFFINGTON POST INDIA

In Kakda, the Muslim colony has only two locked houses, the rest have all been bought over by people from different castes. Daily life carries on here as though nothing ever happened. If you ask people, they insist nothing ever happened. "We didn't say or do anything. The Muslims just went away on their own," they say. Some deny arson ever took place, some say it was a minor incident, like a Diwali cracker or two. "Do you know three Jat Hindu boys from our village were killed? Yet not a single Muslim in Kakda was killed," is the common line.

"You know why they left? They left because Azam Khan was getting them 5 lakh rupees. So they all got up and went to the relief camps. Sold their houses and got another 5 lakhs!" says one Saini. It's a refrain you hear from everyone. "Our boys are in jail, they got 5 lakhs!"

SHIVAM VIJ / HUFFINGTON POST INDIA

A group of Sainis aren't happy that the locked mosque is being photographed. It's gate and external walls are plastered with political posters from last year's panchayat elections. The largest poster is of Bhai Gajab Singh Saini alias Gajbi. "The village doesn't need a leader, it needs a servant. Not promises but development," it reads. Mr Gajbi lost that election, another Jat had won in this Jat-dominated village.

Jat pride has no religion

In Kakda, the Dalits are voting for BSP this time, upper caste and OBC Hindus are voting for BJP, but the Jats are divided. In 2014 they had all voted for Modi. Like its displaced Muslims, Kakda's Hindus say the 2013 riots aren't a factor this election, it's not 2014 anymore.

The Jats are divided between Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal and the BJP, with more Jats inclined towards the former. For some reason Jat pride is hurt.

The current pradhan of the village, Om Vir Singh, says – or hopes? – that by the time voting day comes, Hindu-Muslim polarisation could well take place, making Jats go with the BJP rather than the RLD.

They say this election is SP versus BJP, and they hate the SP, especially its Muslim face, Azam Khan. But their hatred for Muslims isn't enough to make them vote for BJP this time.

But why are Jats considering the RLD at all? At this, he and his friends start counting their problems with the BJP. The Modi government took away Ajit Singh's bungalow in Delhi, they allege. Modi doesn't pay respects to Chaudhry Charan Singh on his death anniversary. Sugarcane farmers, mostly Jats, finally received due payments but the minimum support price has been increased by a mere Rs 25 after three years. "The Congress used to increase it every year," says one of them. "And notebandi reduced us to selling milk for our livelihood!"

They say this election is SP versus BJP, and they hate the SP, especially its Muslim face, Azam Khan. But their hatred for Muslims isn't enough to make them vote for BJP this time.

"This time Jats are neither Hindus nor Muslims. Jats have become Jats," says the pradhan, though he doesn't sound happy about it.

What's the possibility, I ask him, of another big riot like 2013? "We're regretting the one we did. Young boys are in jail, their future destroyed, while we miss the Muslims who left Kakda." Miss them? "They were the skilled labour here. They used to build houses and work on the farms. Now they come from wherever they have gone to – the same Muslims – to do the work," he says.

Tyagi for Muslims

Kakda village is part of Budhana constituency in Muzaffarnagar. The sitting MLA is Nawazish Alam Khan but he's been replaced by Pramod Tyagi, a Brahmin.

The BSP's candidate is Syeda Begum, whose husband Kadir Rana is an accused in the Muzaffarnagar riots, charged with having incited Muslims with inflammatory speeches. Similarly, the BJP candidate, Umesh Malik, a Jat, has six cases of rioting and hate speech in the 2013 riots.

The BJP would need a complete Hindu-Muslim polarisation to win this seat, as the largest number of voters here are Muslim, followed by Dalits and then Jats.

Speaking to Jats and Muslims alike in other places across Budhana constituency, it became clear that the RLD's Yograj Singh, also a Jat, is making it tough for the BJP's Umesh Malik to win. The BJP would need a complete Hindu-Muslim polarisation to win this seat, as the largest number of voters here are Muslim, followed by Dalits and then Jats.

Most interestingly, Muslims don't seem interested in the BSP or the Dalit-Muslim alliance offered by Mayawati. Usually, Muslims like to make a fellow-Muslim win their seat, but this time they aren't risking Hindu-Muslim polarisation. They're voting for a Hindu.

In one village, Muslims said they had welcome the SP's Pramod Tyagi like a hero, gave him money to contest this election. "We are not looking at the candidate," an old man said, "We are looking at Akhilesh. He works without discrimination, for Hindus and Muslims alike."

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