Kasganj: For Whom the Bell Tolls
When a day of introspection and celebration becomes an occasion for chest thumping
Ever since the Modi-led government came into power in the country, a number of saffron organizations, especially ABVP, the youth wing of the BJP, have been vociferous in their propagation of a narrow-but-muscular form of nationalism in the country. To a certain extent, this was to be expected keeping in mind the massive majority which this party enjoys in Parliament and the right wing ideology of the ruling dispensation.
India, as we know, is a country with immense social and religious diversity and the very close when the social fissures generated by such hyper-patriotism are beginning to approach a breaking point.
However, instead of displaying a more mature and calibrated approach, these right wing affiliates of the BJP organizations are showing an alarming propensity to cross the boundaries of democratic freedom by indulging in brute muscle-flexing and an increasingly aggressive approach to consolidate their political space.
Republic Day should be an occasion to celebrate to the memory of the founding fathers of the nation and the Constitution of India and it's spirit. It was, till recently, regarded as a day for introspection for the citizens of a free and united nation. However, unfortunately during the past couple of years, this momentous day is gradually being turned into an occasion of patriotic chest thumping.
It has turned into an occasion of brash public display not of Indian nationalism but a variant of Hindu nationalism. The Tiranga Yatra in which some saffron organization take to the roads carrying national flags has unfortunately degenerated into minority bashing and instilling fear among the Muslim populace.
There are credible reports indicating that tension had been simmering in Kasganj over some social media posts for more than a week before republic day. There are also reports, unconfirmed till now, about love affair angle between two persons belonging to different communities. What is indisputable is the fact that the local administration was caught napping
Evidence has now started gathering credibility that unlike initial media reports of the incident, it was not the resistance of some Muslim youth to permit the flag bearing ABVP workers to enter their locality and prevent them from hoisting the national flag, but, in fact, it was just the opposite. A large gathering of Muslim youth were busy hoisting the national flag in their locality when a group of slogan shouting ABVP workers waving saffron flags tried to barge their way into the locality and what is worse they were mouthing highly objectionable anti-Muslim slogans. This was a very clever ploy to instigate trouble by the ABVP goons who were more interested in waving their Saffron flag, rather than joining their Muslim brethren in paying homage to the national flag.
It was this incident which triggered off a wave of violence in which a Hindu youth, Chandan Gupta was shot dead and a number of other innocent bystanders suffered injuries and a huge damage to property.
The police have arrested Saleem Javed, 45, a shopkeeper who they have charged of being the main accused in killing of Chandan Gupta. Under the circumstances, the investigating authorities should also investigate the role of those political leaders who immediately sought to exploit the public emotions on the Chandan Gupta issue which intensified the violence.
The manner in which the police at Kasganj have handled the situation is, in fact, increasing a sense of insecurity in the minorities. It is clear that India’s most populous state is like a dry tinderbox and if the state government does not take lessons from Kasganj, the situation could worsen and spread to other parts of the state unless the situation is controlled with an iron hand.
The growing sense of frustration and bitterness among Muslim youth is reflected in the protest which took place at the Aligarh Muslim University campus on January 30.
The AMU Students’ Union (AMUSU) held a protest march on January 30 demanding a CBI enquiry into the Kasganj riots and strong action against the perpetrators of the violence. This enquiry should trace out the “real culprit” whose bullet killed Chandan Gupta because only this would provide a clue to what really happened at Kasganj.
Hundreds of AMU students, who joined the protest raised slogans of “Hindustan Zindabad” followed by “Pakistan Murdabad”. Addressing the protesters at the culmination of the protest march, the secretary of the AMUSU, Mohd Fahad said, “The real truth behind the Kasganj violence has been captured by various people on camera and it would reveal that some youth carrying saffron flags forced their way into a congested Muslim locality where citizens were honouring the national flag. These hotheads raised provocative statements which led to a scuffle leading to the violence”.
He said that the AMU students share the grief of the families of all the victims of violence and arson including the family of the youth who lost his life.
Fahad said, “We are loyal Indian citizens who believe in communal amity but some saffron groups associated with the ruling party are instigating communal differences”. He said that if the demands raised by AMU Students’ Union are not fulfilled by the government, AMU students would continue to agitate for justice to all riot victims.
The district authorities had taken strong precautionary measures following the announcement of today’s protest. Heavy police reinforcements and rapid action force had been posted at the main Sir Syed gate of the University. The AMU Students’ Union had announced that they would lead a march to the district collectorate and hand over a memorandum addressed to the President of India. The district authorities however made it clear that they would not allow the march to proceed beyond Sir Syed crossing at the edge of the University campus.
The students finally agreed to hand over the memorandum within the University campus. The memorandum, which is addressed to the President of India, mentions that “unless the exact reason behind the Kasganj riots are established, the real culprits will go unpunished. The memorandum, while blaming the district administration of the Kasganj for outbreak of violence, also alleges that “people belonging to a particular community are being selectively harassed and targeted by the police without any cogent evidence of their involvement”.
It is important that the state and the central government takes cognizance of this bitterness, anger and frustration amongst Muslim youth and take appropriate step to address these feelings of hurt. If such steps are not immediately undertaken, the loss to the fabric of national unity could prove to be irreparable.
Even otherwise, the law and order situation in Uttar Pradesh is showing signs of worsening during the past few months. For several weeks, the UP police has been without a chief and a couple of weeks ago the charge of Director General of Police was finally handed over to Mr. O. P. Singh. For him, the Kasganj outrage proved to be like a baptism with fire. He is widely regarded as one of the most capable officers in the state police. He carries an impeccable record of firm and fair handling of law and order affairs in the state. This assignment is however going to be his ultimate test. Success, however, will rest with the fact if he is able to manage political complexities of this highly politicized state of the country.
(Tariq Hasan is a senior journalist)