The death of Khalid Mujahid in the custody of Uttar Pradesh police has once again reinforced the perception that the Akhilesh Yadav led-Samajwadi Party has failed to provide security to Muslims in UP. Mujahid was one of the accused of the 2007 serial bomb blasts in UP. His death triggered a knee-jerk response by the Yadav government, which suspended the nine cops escorting him from Faizabad to Lucknow Jail; a total of 42 police officers, including former DGP Vikram Singh, ADG Brijlal and others who were on duty during the time of Khalid's arrest, have been booked. The UP government has also requested the central government to institute a CBI inquiry about the incident. Within days of that, Mohd Saleem, a lawyer associated with the legal defence of Mujahid was brutally attacked in the Faizabad court premises by fellow lawyers who had earlier passed a writ against defending those accused of terrorism.
Yadav's decision to suspend police officers clearly indicates that his Samajwadi Party government is desperately trying to halt a downward swing in its popularity amongst Muslims, whose votes will be crucial in the 2014 general elections. What would be bothering Yadav most is the near unanimous criticism of his government by representatives of the Muslim clergy, all from the leading seminaries of UP. These include the Darul Uloom Deoband, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind and the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat in UP. Even the Shahi Imam of Delhi's Jama Masjid has been critical. These seminaries and the various clerics associated with them have till now had a cosy relationship with the Samajwadi Party. They have often extended official and unofficial support to the SP and they, in turn, have received state-government patronage from various SP-led governments in UP.
UP has been a bitter battle ground for differing political paradigms claiming to be representative of Mandir-Mandal-Bahujan. UP has also been the home to the Babri Masjid conflict and the epicentre of the communalism versus secularism debate. In all this ideological churning, the Muslim vote has played a decisive role in selecting which party would rule UP. Since the days of the Ramjanambhoomi movement, it has become political common sense that Muslims will vote for the candidate who will ensure the defeat of the BJP candidate. In other words, for them, it’s not the ideology of the SP or the BSP or, for that matter, the Congress, that inspires them to vote for a particular candidate. For the Muslims of UP, keeping the BJP out of power is essential and a motivating factor for reclaiming their lost sense of dignity, security and justice.
With the 2014 Lok Sabha elections round the corner, the question is, can administrative correctives like the suspending of police officers and ordering a CBI inquiry halt the growing alienation and anger amongst Muslims against the Samajwadi Party? Unfortunately for Akhilesh, the answer is the negative, unless he takes some urgent political steps. It is important to analyse how, in less than 14 months, the Akhilesh-Yadav led SP is being perceived as one of the most hostile administrations vis-à-vis the Muslims as far as their physical security and issues related to justice and dignity are concerned.
By voting for the SP in large numbers in 2012 assembly elections and ensuring that it got a simple majority, the Muslims of UP reasserted their faith in Mulayam Singh Yadav and his son and hoped that the promises he had made would be fulfilled. One of their major promises, seen as both radical and controversial, was that when they came to power, they would withdraw cases against some 400 Muslims youth who were wrongly arrested on charges of terror. This was welcomed by all democratic and civil rights groups, but, more so, by Muslims. They had been feeling anxious and insecure during Mayawati’s rule, when there were a series of raids against and arrests of Muslims youth for their alleged involvement in terror activities. Overnight, towns with large Muslims population, such as Azamgarh, became associated with madrasas where, it was claimed, Muslim youth were being trained and recruited for terror activities. Even the trail of the now infamous Batla House encounter in Delhi led to Azamgarh. All these incidents, including the arrest of Mujahid, had happened under the chief ministership of Mayawati.
When Akhilesh came to power, he didn’t take any legal steps that would fulfil the promises he made related to the release of Muslim youth. Nor did he launch any policy-related schemes that would address the social and economic backwardness of the Muslim community. What he did, instead, was to nominate several Muslim political figures from conservative backgrounds as spokespersons of the party and give them posts in his government. Many of these individuals, like Kamal Farooqui, T Rehmani and the old Mulayam loyalist Azam Khan have a history of taking positions on Muslim identity that are highly sectarian in nature. Akhilesh has even tried to appease the Imam of Jama Masjid by giving one of his close relatives a position in UP government. These acts are mostly symbolic in nature and by no means have a positive impact on the everyday life of ordinary Muslims.
However, the biggest failure of the Akhilesh Yadav government, one that may cost him dearly in the next Lok Sabha election, is the series of incidents of communal violence and the partisan role played by the UP police during these incidents. To add to this has been the obvious complicity of one his senior ministers, the dreaded mafia don Raghuraj Pratap Singh “Raja Bhaiya” —who is considered to by a close associate of Mulayam-Akhilesh— in the murder of Deputy Superintendent of Police Zia-ul-Haq. Besides the killing of Mujahid and Haq, between June-September 2012, there have been at least six major incidents of communal violence where the police have been accused of acting in a partisan manner against Muslims. Two Muslim youth were burnt alive in Mathura in June and, in the same month, large-scale burning and looting of Muslim houses took place in Raja Bhaiya's constituency Partapgarh. In July, communal clashes occurred in Bareilly over the use of loudspeakers during the Janamasthami processions, two Muslims were killed and there was massive looting and arson. To make matters worse, intermittent clashes continued over several weeks and various Muslims localities remained under curfew for nearly a month creating immense hardships for its residents. In September, six people, including three teenagers, were killed in Ghaziabad during violence over the burning of the Quran. Four of the people killed were reported to have been shot from a distance ranging four to ten feet, once again indicating the high-handedness of the police.
This short history of the Akhilesh-led SP government reminds one of the Indra-Rajiv Gandhi governments of the 1980s when there were large-scale communal violence in UP and the police were accused of indulging in targeted killings of Muslims. The brutality of the police during the Maliana-Meerut and Moradabad violence is still fresh in the memory of people. Instead of making the police accountable and punishing the guilty, the then governments tried to create a sense of balance by appeasing the conservative Muslim clergy. The best example of that was the overturning the Supreme Court judgement by Parliament in the Shah Bano case. This eventually resulted in not only the downfall and complete destruction of Congress in UP, but also gave rise to right wing Hindutva forces, eventually leading up to the tragic demolition of the Babri Masjid.
One of the major reasons for the emergence of Mulayam Singh Yadav and his Samajwadi Party, besides the Mandal Commission, was the support he got from Muslims, who had felt a deep sense of injustice and insecurity during the Congress rule of the 1980s. If Akhilesh wants to survive in UP, he should learn from history and not repeat the mistakes of the Congress. Otherwise, not only will he lose the next election but he and his party might become totally irrelevant in Indian politics. Because, unlike the Congress, his party does not have a presence in any other state of India and relies completely on Uttar Pradesh. But more importantly, Muslims who are the biggest minority of India and a significant proportion of UP's population, will be alienated further, which will be a disaster for India's secular polity and democracy.
Jamal Kidwai is the Director of AMAN Trust