Living together

Last Updated: Tue, Aug 26, 2014 02:59 hrs

The meeting in Vrindavan of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)'s Uttar Pradesh executive was watched closely. After all, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance won 73 of the state's 80 seats, making it, overwhelmingly, the most powerful political force in India's largest state. What emerged from the meeting, however, will have disturbed many. The BJP, far from eschewing divisive issues in the manner Prime Minister Narendra Modi recommended in his Independence Day speech from Red Fort, raised emotive - and largely imaginary - issues such as a "love jihad". This is a conspiracy theory popular among some BJP supporters that suggests that young Muslim men, in a co-ordinated fashion, go out to woo Hindu women in order to lure them into converting to Islam.

The BJP must not forget that it is now the party in power at the Centre. Such rabble-rousing was dangerous even when it was in Opposition - it should be completely forgotten by a party in government. "Love jihad" rumours were cynically spread before the violence in Muzaffarnagar last year; and similar rumour-mongering has led to tension in Faizabad and in Meerut recently. A responsible party should be reducing the chances of such incidents, not seen to be exploiting them for political gain. This criticism should be taken to apply, also, to the Samajwadi Party (SP) government in Uttar Pradesh, that long hoped to benefit from BJP-led communal polarisation. It won only five out of the 80 seats in the fray during the last general elections following this tactic, and should hopefully have learnt its limits. Yet it is certain that it still struggles to impose law and order in the face of communal provocation and tension. Nor have its own leaders' statements helped. Again, defusing tension is the first duty of a party in government.

The complex legacy of the Muzaffarnagar riots needs to be addressed by both the BJP and the SP. This week it will have been a year since the riots broke out. But neither the Uttar Pradesh government nor the Centre has done anything to ensure that villagers can return to their homes safely. Instead, it has been reported that Muslim riot victims - the vast majority of those displaced by the violence were Muslims - have tried to settle down in areas close to villages with a large Muslim population. In other words, ghettoisation is taking place instead of re-integration. As elucidated by Ashutosh Varshney and others, this is a recipe for permanent communal tension. Only when there are many and interlinked relationships between individuals of different communities who live near each other can communal tension be minimised.

It will be tempting for the state-level BJP and for the SP to allow the politics of polarisation to continue unchecked. But responsible politics will require a rethink. The Uttar Pradesh chief minister should worry less about what he sees as irresponsible media coverage, and more about how to ensure that Muslim families feel safe enough to return to their villages. And the prime minister should step in and warn his state party firmly against communal adventurism.

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