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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 17 New Delhi April 14, 2018

Bihar: Communal Violence Smears the Progressive Image of Nitish

Saturday 14 April 2018


by Arun Srivastava

The politics of communal chasm and hatred has been the gift of the Hindu hardliners. Whether it has been the partition of India or marginalisation of the Muslims in independent India, these hardliners have simply worked to vitiate the communal harmony. No doubt the Muslim fundamentalists have only acted to further worsen the situation.

I often wonder: can’t these elements allow the people to live in peace? While the marginalisation of Muslims began soon after partition, the Indian politics was communalised by political parties and governments. It is deplorable that through their actions they have been decrying the cultural traditions and tenets of the respective communities.

Even a layman knows the fact that the communal clashes are planned and engineered by the political parties for simply gaining the support of the rival community members. Of course, the marginalisation of Muslims is said to have been insitutionalised in India. But one thing I would pose before the Muslims of the country: who forced you not to send your children and wards to a better school? The common refrain would be: since we did not have money and were poor we could not afford to provide good education to them. This is simply a lie.

The grip of the Mullahas and Maulavis have been so acute and strong on the Muslim community that a common poor Muslim cannot ever think of disobeying their diktat and asserting his freedom. Though the political leaders often complain of incongruity against the Muslims, the fact cannot be denied that the ordinary Muslims have to suffer due to the short-sightedness and nursing of skewed egos by the religious leaders of the community. It is pertinent to ask why so far they have been averse to modernising the education at the madrasas and in introducing technical education.

It is not that they have been the victims of the present-day governance which is primarily based on the class-exploitation perpetrated in the name of caste. The Dalits have to suffer the same nature of debase and humiliation that a lower-caste Muslim suffers. The fact that the rich and upper-caste Muslims are quite well off cannot be denied. But their population is not so high which is why the visibility of Muslims in important positions and places is not discernible. Like the upper-caste and rich Hindus they are the public face of the Muslims. In public they represent the class and community interest of the Muslims.

Abul Kalam Azad opposed the partition for many reasons; one of them was that a predominantly Hindu India will be majoritarian and oppressive to non-Hindus. Some experts and social scientists nurse the view that people want the Muslims to be liberal. The same applies in the case of Dalits. Often the upper-caste people complain that the present-day Dalits have become arrogant. This was not the case with their fathers and forefathers. They want the Dalits to be docile and liberal.

Muslims have to redefine themselves. And this cannot be done through armed resistance or resorting to violence. Like Dalits, they have to empower the community. Of late most of the Muslim youths are taking to self-employment. This is not the reason that government jobs are less or they are not educationally well equipped to take up private jobs, but for the reason that this is self-assertive. They feel independent. They treat themselves as the new class of entrepreneurs. A minority in a democracy must make a statement of its identity instead of looking at the government for pittance.

Apart from the Maulavis and Mullahs, the progressive intellectuals and experts ought to share a fare amount of blame for pushing the Muslims into a dark pathway. They kept on reminding them of the repression and discrimination. How could these people forget that Hindus too had to suffer the same trauma and crossness? Instead, they should have voiced for their empowerment and resurgence. It is unfortunate that the issue was politicised and Congress was blamed for creation of this situation.

The Muslims, lacking a sane and far-sighted leadership, spend their energies on non-issues, fighting for petty questions of religious practice. It is a fact that 95 per cent of the country’s population, whether Hindus or Muslims, were not born before the partition. They have been briefed of the miseries of the partition by some ill-conceived Hindu or Muslim who himself has not felt the wrench of the partition. Everything relayed from one person to another was purely a hearsay.

It is the projection of the Muslims as the vote-bank that has been primarily the reason for the communal clashes. A politics of violence would turn the Muslims scared and force them to follow the dictates of the majority community becoming the order of modern politics. The same pattern follows in the case of the Dalits. Every political party striving to get the vote of the Dalits pays its reverence to Ambedkar. These leaders tend to believe that all the Dalits and Harijans are the followers of Ambedkar. These leaders even do not subscribe to the view that Dalits can also be hardcore Marxist-Leninists. After winning the two by-elections to the Lok Sabha the Samajwadi Party had interestingly issued directives to its district and city presidents to hold programmes on Ambedkar’s achievements, his role in drafting the Constitution. This revisiting Ambedkar is simply a gimmick. The SP is celebrating the 127th birth anniversary of the Dalit icon, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar, on a grand scale in districts across UP on April 14. The politicians are too keen to celebrate the birthday of Ambedkar but are not keen to put a full stop on violence against the Dalits.

Politics of differentiation has in fact been at the base of communal politics. Only a couple of days back lakhs of Dalits in Uttar Pradesh threatened to convert to Islam if the atrocities against them were not stopped. This reflects the brutal and inhuman face of the politic and polity. The emergence of some leaders committed to social justice had instilled a trust in the minds of the common people that communal politics will get a decent burial. But it proved to be a utopia. These leaders in fact adopted and mastered the art of communal politics. In Bihar alone during 2018, till date, 64 such cases have been registered.

A total of 200 incidents of communal tensions have been registered in Bihar since the JD(U), led by Nitish Kumar, broke its alliance with the RJD-Congress and went back to the BJP-led NDA. Compare this with the data of the last five years: 50 such incidents in 2012, 112 in 2013, 110 in 2014, 155 in 2015, 230 in 2016. At 270, 2017 recorded the highest number of communal incidents in recent times. Though some parts of West Bengal, particularly Asansol-Raniganj, witnessed communal clashes during the Ram Navami processions, the situation is worse in Bihar where communal violence spread to at least nine districts since March 17.

Union Minister of State Ashwini Kumar Choubey’s son, Arijit Shashwat, is said to have engineered the clash in Bhagalpur. He has been booked for rioting and inciting violence in Bhagalpur where clashes erupted during an unauthorised procession taken out by the BJP, Bajrang Dal and RSS activists on March 17.

Arijit Shashwat, the son of Choubey, led a rally in Bhagalpur on March 17 to celebrate the start of the Hindu New Year. The bike procession—for which police permission was not taken—passed through Muslim-dominated areas, shouting “provocative slogans”. This led to stone-pelting and shots being fired, injuring several people. A bike rally was taken out in Aurangabad, on Ram Navami day. The bike rally caused violence.

In Kasganj of UP a similar slogan-raising procession unleashed a reign of terror and violence on the Republic Day in a Muslim neighbourhood. After the incident, the Bareilly District Magistrate had said it was becoming a trend to “force processions into Muslim mohallas and shout anti-Pakistan slogans”. The same thing has happened in Bihar. A germane query arises: why did the Nitish Government not take pre-emptive measures? Does the incident point to Nitish losing his grip on the police administration? Is it that the rule of the Saffron Brigade prevails in the State?

One thing is obvious: the incident is the greater part of the BJP design to immobilise Nitish. This also underlines that the BJP does not have faith in him and wants to replace him with its own person as the Chief Minister before the 2019 polls. At the ground level the incident is not isolated, it is part of a recent trend in the State that raises several questions on Nitish’s tryst with secularism, with power, and with the BJP.

Cut up at the machination of the BJP, JD(U) leader K.C. Tyagi accused Ashiwni Choubey for his statement that the FIR lodged against his son, Arijit Shashwat, for allegedly inciting communal tension in Bhagalpur was “a piece of garbage”. This statement from Choubey apparently implied that the BJP has no faith in the Nitish Government. He was unmoved by Tyagi’s assertion: “Choubey holds a constitutional post and is aware of the laws of the land. If the police have lodged an FIR against his son after initial probe, he should either surrender or approach the judiciary to defend himself. It is certainly not a responsible act to call the FIR a piece of garbage,”

The internecine clash and conflict of interest between the national BJP leaders and Nitish have been so intense that some BJP leaders are not even trying to make a secret of where their sympathies lie. This has put them on a direct collision course with Nitish Kumar’s avowedly secular image. Choubey has accused the police of registering a fabricated case against him at the instance of powerful persons.

Incidentally Choubey ought to know. “Is there anything wrong in leading a procession to celebrate the Hindu New Year? Kya Bharat Ma ki baat karna galat hai? Kya Vande Mataram kehna gunah hai? (Is it a crime to talk about Bharat Ma? Is it a crime to say Vande Mataram?)”. It is at the insistence of the BJP that Nitish has had to appoint the hero of the Bhagalpur riot, in which thousands of Muslims were killed, as the chief of the State Police. This time too the communal violence erupted first in Bhagalpur and from there spread to at least 12 districts of Bihar.

The rise in the incidents of communal violence underlines the fact that Nitish has lost his grip over the administration and bureaucracy. Senior bureaucrats say that Nitish’s higher bureaucracy is cozying up with his dominant partner for more remunerative Central assignments. They are no more abiding by his instructions for maintaining law and order and preventing armed processions shouting provocative slogans.

But this weakness is new. Kumar has never been so weak. The story of his downfall started when he broke his first alliance with the BJP before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Then whatever was left of his credibility took a complete nosedive in 2017 when again he broke his alliance with RJD and went back to the alliance with the BJP.

The marriage of deceit and intrigue is on the verge of cessation. Publically both the partners, the JD(U) and BJP, have been claiming to enjoy a successful and happy connubial, but the reality is that they have ceased to be perfect bed-partners. The major partner, the BJP, has been systematically resorting to arm twisting and giving a bad name to the JD(U).

The relationship between the two has dipped to such a low in the wake of communal clashes in Bihar that for the last two days the JD(U) General Secretary, K.C. Tyagi, has been sending warnings to the BJP by way of cautioning the NDA allies not to indulge in any action that could give the opposition an opportunity to raise an accusing finger against the ruling alliance.

Bihar has always been communally sensitive. But this time, coinciding with Ram Navami, the communal passion was aroused by the BJP leaders in the State, especially by the son of the Union Minister Ashwini Choubey. During the last fortnight the State witnessed two incidents spookily similar to the Kasganj violence which claimed a life in Uttar Pradesh in January. Ominously a leader of the BJP, an ally of Nitish, is involved in one of the incidents but has refused to surrender despite an arrest warrant for rioting and inciting communal violence.

The BJP has also resorted to describing the communal clashes as related to land disputes. A week back a man was beheaded in Darbhanga. Intriguingly, the BJP’s State chief Nityanand Rai and Union Minister Giriraj Singh tried to communalise it even while Nitish maintained it was the result of a land dispute. While the communal passion has been on the rise during the last six months, Nitish has been finding it tough to put a curb on it. In 2017, the State saw the fourth largest number of communal incidents (85) in the country, according to statistics prepared by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Over the past few years, groups such as the Hindu Yuva Vahini and the Bajrang Dal have expanded rapidly in the State. Senior RJD leaders point out that the BJP has been trying to communalise the migrant workers and has been primarily focussing on the areas where Yadavs and Muslims are dominant.

Bihar is crucial for the BJP’s plans for an absolute majority in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. In the present scenario the real task for the BJP is cutting down to size Nitish Kumar. The BJP nurses the feeling that eventually he may approach the RJD with the request to pardon him and accept him as a member.

The author is a senior journalist and can be contacted at sriv52[at]

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