Bulldozer Is Back In UP: A Lawful Act Or A Political Vendetta?

Of the various forms of punishment, an eye for an eye is the most primal one. The bulldozer is several notches ahead -- when the home of an accused is demolished, other family members become the inevitable target.

Demolition Row: Bulldozers are power to some, but crush the lives of many others

The bulldozers continue to raze the properties of accused in Uttar Pradesh, with Kanpur, Saharanpur and Prayagraj witnessing the demolition drives in the last few days. The matter intensified on Sunday when the Prayagraj Development Authority (PDA) demolished the house of activist Mohammed Javed, who is also a senior member of the Welfare Party of India.  

The action came after the violent protests in Prayagraj on Friday over former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Nupur Sharma's comments on Prophet Muhammad. 

The police arrested Javed, claiming him to be one of the main accused behind Friday’s protests. As his home was demolished in the public glare, his lawyer and other activists termed it an act of vendetta.  

While the administration stated that many ‘objectionable items’ were recovered from his home, they also linked the demolition with an earlier pending case against Javed, in which demolition orders were issued on May 25 after he or his lawyer failed to appear in court to defend their case initiated on May 10. According to the authorities, Javed has been accused of building a house without getting its map cleared by the PDA. While authorities have said demolition orders were issued last month before the current episode, its link with Friday's violence is too evident to be missed.  

Besides, over 300 people from eight districts of Uttar Pradesh, including Prayagraj, Hathras, Ambedkar Nagar, Moradabad, and Saharanpur have also been detained. 

Bulldozer being used to demolish the illegally constructed residence of Javed Ahmed, a local leader who was allegedly the key conspirator of violent protests against now-suspended BJP leaders remarks on Prophet Muhammad, in Prayagraj, Sunday, June 12, 2022. PTI

Adding furore to the demolition politics, Mrityunjay Kumar, the media advisor to the UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, tweeted on Saturday: "Unruly elements remember, every Friday is followed by a Saturday" and posted a photo of a bulldozer demolishing a building.  

Bulldozer: A political tool? 

Of the various forms of punishment, an eye for an eye is the most primal one. The bulldozer is several notches ahead -- when the home of an accused is demolished, other family members become the inevitable target. Since even a convict deserves only the punishment prescribed under the law and certainly not the demolition of one’s home, the machine essentially violates the Right to Equality under Article 14. 

The bulldozer justice strikes the core of constitutionalism, creating fear among people, least to say, of a particular community. The bulldozer politics has found many cheerleaders following the victory of Yogi Adityanath, hailed as 'Bulldozer Baba', in the recent UP assembly elections. 

It was rep­orted that after BJP’s victory, Adityanath mentioned the word bulldozer during rallies at 58 places—the party won all those seats. Such are the cheerleaders that several young men in Agra tattooed the images of the bulldozer and Bulldozer Baba on their bodies after Yogi’s victory. 

In March, BJP MLA Rame­shwar Sharma in Madhya Pradesh parked several bulldozers outside his government resi­d­ence in Bhopal with a billboard that said: “Beti ki suraksha mein jo banega rora, mama ka bulldozer banega hathoda (Uncle CM’s bulldozer will demolish those who impede the safety of daughters).” A few days later, Sharma welcomed CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan with slogans of  “Bulldozer Mama Zindabad”. 

Bulldozer: What's the real motive? 

The Prayagraj case is a reminder of the recent demolition of ‘illegal’ construction in Delhi’s Jahangirpuri. While the demolition followed the communal clashes on Hanuman Jayanti, BJP-ruled Delhi Municipality claimed that it was done to remove ‘illegal’ structures. A little later, the bulldozer arrived at Shaheen Bagh, the nucleus of the anti-CAA/NRC protests, giving birth to fresh questions about the civic body’s motive. 

Speaking to Outlook in an earlier interview, social activist Aimmam Rizwi had said, “All these recent bulldozer politics of the BJP government is nothing but to create a narrative that anything illegal is associated with Muslims and it’s becoming an increasingly threatening gimmick. It’s probably a warning message for those who rage against the government.” 

However, the victims of bulldozer politics have reiterated that no notice was served to them prior to the demolition drive. And after rendering the marginalised community homeless, no rehabilitation has been provided till now. 

The Supreme Court had held in the Olga Tellis vs Bombay Municipal Corporation (1985) case that the right to housing comes under Article 21, which also mandates a right to be given a notice and heard before the eviction, as well as rehabilitation under the government schemes. Over two decades later, the Delhi High Court in the Sudama Singh & Others vs Government of Delhi (2010) case elaborated on the guidelines and made it “the State’s constitutional and statutory obligation to ensure” that the rehabilitation “has to be a meaningful exer­cise consistent with the rights to life, livelihood and dignity” of the affected people. 

As settled legal principles continue to be flouted, the monster machine has become a political tool to both construct the perception of a tough leader as well as deepen the social divide.