NEW DELHI: Arvind Sharma and Mehboob Ali are inseparable friends, both residents of Siyana tehsil in Bulandshahr district of Uttar Pradesh. Sharma is the son of an army pensioner, currently the president of the Brahmin Samaj and a respected man in his community. Ali runs a transport business. Both today are in Bulandshahr jail with Yogi Adityanath’s police charging them with cow slaughter.

Sharma is perhaps the first Brahmin, as CPI-M Politburo member Brinda Karat pointed out to The Citizen, to have been jailed for cow slaughter. Incidentally he and his entire family are vegetarians.

Ali has been charged under the National Security Act for the same crime. NSA, said the cops when approached by Karat, is used only for Muslims.

Sharma’s fault is that he is friendly with Muslims. Both he and Mehboob Ali have been working for communal harmony and amity in the district that is home to the brutal murder of police inspector Subodh Kumar, who was killed by a cow mob in Bulandshahr district for trying to stop the violence. A local resident was also killed with him.

The police investigation since has focused on apprehending persons supposedly guilty of cow slaugther, as per Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s directions contained in his initial statement that it was imperative for the police first to arrest those guilty of cow slaughter.

Karat who led a party delegation to probe the incident said that she did not see any mention of Arvind Sharma or Mehboob Ali in any of the FIRs lodged with local police. “Their names were not there, we did not even hear their names and now they have been picked up and locked inside jail,” she said.

Their “fault” according to local residents is twofold. One, and this is what most cite, is that the two were close friends, inseparable according to those who knew them. This flew in the face of CM Adityanath’s efforts to divide and polarise UP along religious lines. More so as Sharma was a Brahmin whose father is an influential figure in the area where largescale communal violence was narrowly averted only last month.

And two, both Sharma and Ali worked together to field and campaign for a candidate to chair the Siyana municipality, which is an SC/ST reserved seat.

The BJP contested the election but lost to this candidate, a defeat that angered not just the local but the state unit of the party, which has made this part of UP a laboratory for an agenda driven by hatred and division.

As Karat said, love jihad had targeted mixed caste and religion couples, and now the decision to imprison two clearly innocent men along with others in the alleged cow slaughter case was intended as a signal that even friendship between members of the two communities was not going to be tolerated.

Interestingly, while some persons have been arrested for the murder of the police officer, after considerable pressure on Adityanath, several Muslims too have been arrested and are still in jail for alleged cow slaughter.

The NSA has been slapped only on the Muslims, as part of what cops admitted to be the “minorities only” policy informally circulated by the state government. Apart from Mehboob Ali, Azhar Khan and Nadeem Khan are in jail under the draconian National Security Act.

Brinda Karat said that there was no evidence of cow slaughter as claimed by the mobs that created havoc, and shot dead a local along with the police officer. She said it was clear that no cow was slaughtered in the vicinity, and the entire story was fabricated to incite communal passions, and divide the people.

It is no secret that what was intended to be a major communal flareup was averted by vigilant tehsil authorities, who diverted crowds gathering for a regular religious event on to another path at the time.

The consequences however, have become dire for Muslims in particular, with ablebodied youth being targeted, harassed and arrested under the NSA.

Locals emphasised that everyone is living under fear, and the workers have all fled leaving the fields empty. Sugarcane is thus rotting, with the farmers now without the landless labourers who have fled the district.

Along with this stray and starving cattle, desperate for food, are destroying the crops and attacking villagers.

As Karat said, these are dangerous times for the citizens of India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh, driven by forces that see votes in communal polarisation and a doctrine of dominance and hate.