Uttar Pradesh

Political axe

Print edition : September 06, 2013

Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav blocks the mike as he speaks to Health Minister Ahmed Hasan, who criticised the role of the media on the issue of the suspention of Durga Shakti Nagpal, in Lucknow on August 6. Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

Durga Shakti Nagpal. She was suspended on the charge of demolishing the wall of a mosque at Kadalpur village in Gautum Budh Nagar district indiscriminately and hastily. Photo: PTI

The wall of a mosque that was demolished on July 27. Photo: rajeev bhatt

Communal polarisation is once again becoming the major political theme in Uttar Pradesh, and the suspension of the young IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal illustrates this.

IS communal polarisation once again emerging as the dominant theme in Uttar Pradesh politics? A number of recent developments in the country’s most populous State, including the controversy about the suspension of the young Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer Durga Shakthi Nagpal, have brought up this question prominently among both practitioners and observers of politics.

Senior officials in the Uttar Pradesh Home Department, including those at different levels of the law and order machinery, told Frontline that foreboding communal tensions are rising progressively in the State’s social and political spheres. These officials have identified over a dozen potential flashpoints in different parts of Uttar Pradesh and, according to them, the intervention of different forces, including political parties, in these regions is not helping to control the situation.

Clearly, this growing phenomenon is bucking the political trend that has dominated the State for over two decades. The last time Hindu-Muslim communal polarisation held sway over the State’s political situation was in the early 1990s when the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)-led Sangh Parivar and its political arm, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), aggressively advanced the Ayodhya Ram mandir agitation. The 1991 Lok Sabha elections, held eight months after the Sangh Parivar organised a kar seva in Ayodhya in 1990, presented tangible manifestations of this polarisastion. The BJP won 51 of the 85 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh in that election. This polarisation persisted for a year and a half, a period that saw the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in December 1992.

The next major political battle was during the 1993 Assembly elections, which witnessed the coming together of the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and through this alliance the dominant emergence of assertive politics of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Dalit communities. Since then, this form of caste-based identity politics has been the primary driver of politics in Uttar Pradesh even though the S.P-BSP alliance collapsed in 1995.

However, the perception that is emerging is that while the caste-identity politics does remain central, communal polarisation is also getting greater traction. This is evident from the number of communal riots that have broken out in the State in the past 18 months since the Akhilesh Yadav-led S.P. came to power. Nine riots were reported during this period, including some major ones in Faizabad, Bareilly and Ghaziabad.

Each of these was sparked by local incidents, but according to Home Department officials, the cumulative effect of all these is creating a larger pattern with State-wide implications. The failure of the S.P. government on the law and order front has contributed majorly to these incidents, but all the major political forces in the State —the principal opposition BSP, the Hindutva-oriented BJP and the Congress, which is vying with the S.P. and the BSP to attract the minority Muslim voters into its fold—have made their own contribution to this alarming situation.

In fact, on close analysis the Durga Shakthi Nagpal controversy underscores this aspect. Her suspension has been interpreted on two disparate parameters. Large sections of the media have portrayed the suspension as one that was triggered by her campaign against the illegal sand mining mafia in Gautam Budh Nagar district in western Uttar Pradesh. The IAS Officers Association has followed this argument and pointed out that the suspension is unjust.

Almost all the political detractors of the S.P. government have taken this line and castigated the government. The Congress’ central leadership has taken a special interest in the issue. Congress president Sonia Gandhi wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh requesting him to ensure that the officer was “not unfairly treated”.

The S.P. government, on its part, argued that Durga Shakti Nagpal demolished the wall of a mosque indiscriminately and in haste and that this could have created communal tension in the area. It went on to state that the suspension was done essentially to ensure that the situation did not go out of control.

Clearly miffed by the Congress’ trenchant criticism of the suspension, S.P. leader Ramgopal Yadav went to the extent of stating that the Centre could take back all the IAS officers from the State.

Even as the controversy began to unfold, there were indications from Kadalpur village in Greater Noida, where the wall that was allegedly demolished stood, that there was more to the politicking on the issue than the influence of the illegal sand mafia on the S.P. government. According to several people Frontline spoke to at Kadalpur, the demolition of the mosque wall on July 27 had indeed raised some passions in the area, and several political forces, topmost among them being the Congress, sought to capitalise on this. According to the villagers, one of the first persons to reach the village soon after the demolition was Thakur Dhirendra Singh, spokesperson for the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee. Incidentally, Dhirendra contested the 2012 Assembly elections from the Jewar seat, in which Kadalpur village falls.

The villagers said Dhirendra Singh had held a meeting to protest against the demolition of the wall and given the impression that he planned to bring a delegation of senior Congress leaders to the village the next day, July 28, to highlight the “SP government’s apathy in protecting a place of devotion of the Muslims”.

It is well known that it was on Dhirendra Singh’s motorcycle that Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi rode pillion to the nearby Bhatta Parsaul village in May 2011 when farmers launched an agitation against the BSP government over land acquisition.

“It was news about this plan, more than anything else, that triggered Nagpal’s suspension,” said a highly placed source in the government. The information on Dhirendra Singh’s movements reached S.P. leaders in Lucknow on the evening of July 27. “Then, a section of officers and S.P. leaders suggested that this could even end up in a replay of Rahul Gandhi’s act of May 2011, when he sneaked into Bhatta while prohibitory orders were in force, embarrassing the then Mayawati government,” the leader said. With this perception gaining ground, the S.P. leadership came to the conclusion that the only way to prevent a loss of face in the event of a Congress assault was to take punitive action against Durga Shakti Nagpal and thus keep its pro-minority image and track record intact.

Developments in the administration in Lucknow on the night of July 27 do corroborate this version. For, the Department of Personnel worked overtime that night to finalise the suspension orders so that it could be served on the officer next morning.

“Any close probe of the sequence of events will show that this is what really happened. Why else would the Chief Minister himself get involved in the suspension of a junior officer? And if all that he wanted was to facilitate illegal sand mining, he could have just transferred the officer to some other place and some other department,” a senior government source pointed out.

A senior S.P. politician, considered close to party president Mulayam Singh Yadav, claimed that Durga Shakti Nagpal’s initiatives against the sand mafia were not even a point of consideration when the suspension order was issued.

“In any case, the young officer had not done anything extraordinary in this campaign. There are government records to show that out of 118 inspections and sealing carried out against the sand mafia in the district since January 2013 only five were under Durga Shakti Nagpal’s leadership. She impounded only 18 of the 535 vehicles impounded from the sand mafia during this period,” the leader told Frontline.

However, a number of senior officers who have raised their voice against the suspension point out that mere statistics do not prove anything and that Durga Shakti Nagpal did indeed have a reputation for being harsh on the sand mafia.

Indications from the State bureaucracy are that the controversy is well on its way to being settled with an explanation from the young officer to the higher bureaucracy and the government’s acceptance of it. But, the larger politics being played by the various players on communal lines is showing no signs of abatement. In fact, sources in the BJP say that the appointment of Gujarat strongman Amit Shah as the person in charge of the party’s U.P. affairs ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections has given a new energy and vigour to the militant Hindutva sections of the party.

“It is certainly no longer the Vajpayee era in Uttar Pradesh BJP,” said a middle-level leader who contested the last Assembly elections. Statements such as these, too, add to the sense of foreboding, particularly of the non-partisan law enforcement officers who have to actually manage the situations on the ground.

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