If the purpose of the communal flare up in several districts of Haryana was to condition the electoral trend in Rajasthan, create the “suitable” mood for the 2024 general elections, boost chances of Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s third term and spread some tension in the National Capital Region, I am afraid the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will have to do better. This soufflé did not quite rise.

Much to BJP’s chagrin, an obstacle in their path is the evolving Jat-Muslim social cohesion. This almost organic Jat-Muslim evolution has to be disrupted to make way for politics of polarisation.

Effort is on in Haryana to create a cleavage between Muslims and Jats. At Mandkola, a Jat village in Palwal, a gathering was addressed by the members of the Bajrang Dal exhorting “Hindus” to consolidate against Muslims.

The divisive effort did not go very far. A panchayat in the neighbouring Muslim village of Kot the very next day was devoted almost entirely to maintaining communal harmony at all costs. That it was a Muslim village is misleading. Let me explain.

A Paal in the local system is a part of a “Khap” a Jat or Meo group which maintains the traditional social hierarchy. At the panchayat in Kot, the Muslim “Paals” – Shiklot, Magariya, Damrote and Hindu “Paals” – Rawat, Saushet, Sahrawat, jointly endorsed “harmony at all costs.” The infection from Kot and Mandkola will spread making wider concentric circles.

What must remain a puzzle to people who, over the past 40 years, have grown accustomed to Hindus and Muslims at loggerheads, is that the two major communities in a neighbouring state under BJP rule have established a bond of peace.

One reason for this harmony in the past centuries was the Meo’s unabashed contemplation of themselves as converts from Hinduism. They took pride in the culture derived from their Hindu ancestry.

A progressive Meo I met retained his name which clearly revealed his ancestry, Zafar Meo Yaduvanshi. In our caste-religion ridden system, the integrated aspects of Meo culture have not found multitudes of admirers.

The surge of Muslim reform movements had their impact. The reformist “Mullah” found Meo culture too “Hindu”. Hindu society gradually under the spell of Arya Samaj and later political Hinduism found the “reformed” Meos “too Muslim.” Buffeted from both sides, some Meos began to change.

I remember the distinguished Meo lawyer, Ramzan Chaudhry, make a clear admission. “I was embarrassed that my mother did Goverdhan puja.” Despite all the exertions for the “Islamisation” of the Meo and Hinduisation of the Jat, how have the two come on the same side?

A simple reason for Jats being against the Centre is official indifference to the agitation for Jat reservation.

Second, and much more important in welding Jats and Muslims, was the Kisaan Andolan or the Farmers’ agitation in which the Meos stood four-square with the Jats. In this regard the Jats of Palwal, Sohna, Gurugram sentimentally remember “our Sikh brothers”. The generosity with which they opened “langars” or feeding centres is the stuff of legends in the Jat belt.

To run these large feeding Centres over months, the Sikh organisation occasionally needed help from Jats. In one instance the Centres needed hundreds of litres of milk.

Jats, who once kept cows and buffalos have, in many instances moved on to other means of livelihood. Gujjars now keep dairy animals but they are traditionally opposed to Jats.

They refused to help in this instance. The shortfall in milk was made up by Meo Muslim dairy farmers, a fact that the Jats will never forget.

In the recent agitation by women wrestlers, who happen to be Jats, the community again had total support from Muslims.

In other words Jats and Muslims are arrayed against the Bajrang Dal’s efforts to consolidate the Hindu fold. Brahmins, Thakurs, Gujjars are on the opposite side.

There is a huge lesson in the Meo-Jat bonding. This is the secularism of joint struggle and common purpose, infinitely more durable than the shallow secularism of mutual tolerance.

There are some vulnerabilities. Saturation coverage given to the foul allegation during the peak of Covid pandemic that Muslims in the Markaz at Nizamuddin were deliberately spreading the virus, had its fallout in Haryana too.

Anyone who looked like a Muslim was avoided by all Hindus. Jats were no exception.

How did the trouble begin? Society, Andy Warhol said, had reached a stage when everybody will be famous for a few minutes.

The most notorious ‘Bad-Men’ in Rajasthan and Haryana at the moment are Monu Manesar and Pintu Bajrangi. They are alleged to have burnt alive two Meo-Muslims in Rajasthan last May. The incident itself and subsequent police lethargy ignited Muslim anger in the entire Mewat belt.

Anger simmered. Then, in late July posts on Facebook announced Monu Manesar and Pintu Bajrangi’s participation in a Vishwa Hindu Parishad sponsored yatra starting July 31 from the Nalhar Mahadev temple in Meo dominated Nuh in Haryana.

Facebook posts by Monu Manesar and Pintu Bajrangi asked people to turn up in large numbers to garland them. They taunted the Meos to receive their “Jijaji” or “brother-in-law” with some fanfare. Meos sent back equally vicious rejoinders.

When the procession started, Muslim youth pelted stones but their principal targets were the elusive two, Monu Manesar and Pintu Bajrangi. Where were they hiding? Maybe in the cars parked nearby. The cars were burnt.

In a small living room of a local Jat leader, both Hindu and Muslim lawyers, social activists, and Panchayat leaders spoke in and out of turn, each being the other’s proxy.

They all seemed to say the same thing: Jats took no part in the yatra which was armed with swords and rods. The Muslims, also armed, were in a position to surround and kill indiscriminately.

“The Bajrang Dal plan was to have at least a hundred martyrs, their bodies to be paraded throughout the Hindi belt,” Godhra on a larger scale.

Muslims showed restraint even though Muslim shops, houses were gutted. There is curfew in several districts. Mosques have been burnt. Communal clouds still hover.