“Nobody should go through what this family has undergone. It is difficult even to imagine the kind of brutal violence and trauma that they have had to suffer. The trauma is written large over their faces, especially the women of the family.” Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav prefaced his interview with Frontline with these words, barely a few hours after the family of Akhlaq, who was lynched at Dadri, met him at his official residence in Lucknow. He added that he had told Akhlaq’s mother Asgari, brother Mohammed Afzal and daughter Shaista that the government stood by them in their grief and would make sure the family got justice. In the course of the interview, the Chief Minister pointed to the challenges he and his government were facing in combating communal propaganda and violence and sought to counter the criticism that his government was not effective in addressing the threats to communal harmony. Excerpts from the interview:
Beyond expressions of solidarity in grief and disbursal of compensation, what concrete steps have the Uttar Pradesh government taken in relation to the Dadri lynching?
The government has taken quick and concrete measures both in terms of investigation into the lynching and in terms of providing relief to the victims. The administration has kept vigil to maintain peace and order even amidst efforts by some sections, especially fringe Hindutva outfits, to create more unrest. The investigation has resulted in the quick arrest of the suspects. Other proceedings in the law and order machinery as well as in the legal course are being speeded up. More importantly, we have initiated a system of strict monitoring and peremptory action to ensure that such atrocities are not repeated anywhere in Uttar Pradesh.
What are the early leads you have got from the investigation? There is a stream of opinion, forcefully advanced by Union Minister Mahesh Sharma that what happened in Dadri was an accident.
Since the investigation is still continuing, it would not be right for me to reveal the investigation details or make a claim about the qualitative nature of the murder. Anything people in responsible positions state could influence the investigation. On that parameter, I am of the firm opinion that the Union Minister’s categorisation of the happening as an “accident” is absolutely irresponsible. But then, he and his party have always sought to make political capital by communalising situations. Thus, this statement that does not behove a Union Minister can also be part of this communalisation project. Uttar Pradesh has been witnessing the advancement of this project over the past three years in various forms and using different ploys. Every one of these communal expeditions has caused widespread misery to the people. The Muzaffarnagar communal flare-up that wreaked havoc in the region was undoubtedly a part of this vicious project. Of course, the BJP benefited electorally in the Lok Sabha elections by creating communal polarisation leading to the loss of many lives.
There is also a perception that the Muzaffarnagar riots were a joint project of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar as well as the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) led by you...
Now, I am not at all surprised by such statements and perception. I and my party run the government here and it is our primary duty and responsibility to protect the people. So, when we are overtaken by events and expose our limitations in fulfilling this important duty and responsibility, it is but natural that we are arraigned by accusations and extreme interpretations. I think facing such things is a part of holding power in Uttar Pradesh. But let me assert with all the authority at my command that the S.P. has and will never indulge in such cynical political games compromising with communal forces. Those who throw these accusations at us do not actually know how tough a time myself, my administration and my party have in countering the sustained communal project of the Sangh Parivar outfits. It is a 24 x 7, 365-day challenge that can erupt anywhere and everywhere. We have to keep vigil on the rumours that are being spread, including announcements that are made from religious sites. Let me tell you, for every Muzaffarnagar or Dadri that has happened there are at least three dozen such incidents that my administration has prevented through resolute action and proactive monitoring. I wish our critics and observers would sometimes see that too.
Could you give me a couple of instances?
The Hindutva communal project takes many forms and shapes. If it was love jehad at one point of time, now it is allegations about cow slaughter and beef consumption. Even festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi are being used to create communal tension. They often try to portray the movement of herds of cows on the road or in a vehicle as an attempt to slaughter cows and consume beef. Such an attempt was made in Baruali in western Uttar Pradesh a few weeks ago. A group of people with cows were stopped with allegations that they were Muslims and that they were planning to slaughter the animals and consume them. A commotion was created, but the administration intervened at the right moment. It was revealed that those who were transporting the cows belonged to the Banjaran nomadic community from Rajasthan. As you know, their colourful dress sometimes resembles those of some sections of the minority community. Who knows what situation the Hindutva fringe elements would have created if the administration was not able intervene at the right time?
A similar situation was created even in Etawah. Cows were being taken for the successful Kamadhenu dairy project and here, too, these Hindutva fringe groups intervened and sought to create a communal situation. This, too, was prevented on time. In the last week of September, a Ganesh Chaturthi immersion procession in Gonda led to some unfortunate incidents and minor clashes, which were also put down fast by the district authorities. However, even after peace was restored, the BJP and its cohort organisations launched a vitriolic communal campaign using different platforms such as posters, mike processions and WhatsApp messages. Here, too, the administration initiated strict measures to counter these nefarious designs.
Combating the challenge of these troublemakers is a full-time job for us. And, of course, the actions and inactions of the so-called responsible leaders of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar do not help build and maintain peace on the ground. You have the example of irresponsible utterings of Mahesh Sharma. And you also have the strange and bizarre silence of the BJP’s topmost leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, when Hindutva fringe groups unleash their vandalism on minorities. You travel the world, meet technology giants, laugh and cry with them saying that you want to turn 21st century India into the topmost nation in the world, but when your supporters burn churches and attack mosques, assault nuns and vandalise Muslim mohallas, you maintain a studied silence.
Undoubtedly, this silence and inaction is a way of encouraging these communal bigots. Indeed, this silence also fits into the nefarious communal political plan that you are pursuing. All that I would like to say is that if you are going to allow people to perpetrate violence and killing in the name of what one eats, wears or the language some sections of the population speak, all your big statements about making India big would remain hollow talk: a pipe dream.
So, you are saying that Prime Minister Modi, too, is responsible for the communal aggravation perpetrated by the Hindutva outfits…
I suppose that is the only natural conclusion one can make in the face of the silence and inaction that does not address criminal communal politics.
Your statement on banning cow slaughter has also come in for considerable debate...
Yes, I challenged the Union government to ban cow slaughter if it is serious about the protection of cows and the Central government responded by saying that it is already banned. Once again, Modi ji had lampooned the Congress during the UPA regime by saying that instead of Green Revolution that government was creating “pink revolution” by exporting huge quantities of meat, including beef. During the Lok Sabha election campaign, he promised that he would put an end to this “pink revolution”. But what is the track record? Meat exports, including beef, have gone up substantially, by some accounts by 15 per cent, after the Modi government assumed office. And a major contribution to this is being made by Gujarat, where Modi ji claims to have created a so-called model of development. So it is all right to say that there is a ban on paper. But talk by itself does not create reality.
So, what exactly is your line as also your party’s on cow slaughter?
If you ask me personally, I belong to a community that has made its living on cattle for centuries. Yadavas are the biggest protectors of cows since time immemorial. At the same time, I am a practitioner of statecraft in a secular country. I am of the view all such practitioners of statecraft should remember the path shown by the father of our nation. On the face of repeated demands by some of his friends, colleagues and acquaintances for banning cow slaughter and beef consumption, Mahatma Gandhi stated steadfastly that though he has long pledged to serve the cow, he cannot force his religion to be the religion of the rest of Indians. He also pointed out that we had been shouting from the housetops that there would be no coercion in the matter of religion and that it would be erroneous for Hindus to say that India now had become the land of Hindus. These words of the Mahatma have a great message. And in our democracy any major, path-breaking administrative measure needs to be advanced only through consensus. But there are deliberate attempts to force the views of one group over all others, bypassing the very concept of consensus. The fight to retain this principle of consensus is also an integral part of the fight to protect our democracy.