In an interview to Aditi Phadnis, author and professor Dr Sudha Pai talks about her recent book with Sajjan Kumar titled Everyday Communalism, the rising polarisation amidst Hindus and Muslims and how caste-based mobilisation has been significant in UP politics.
The current thinking seems to be that 1. That Hindu-Muslim conflict is largely an urban phenomenon; 2. that civic engagement between communities prevents conflict because civic organisations promote interdependency among communities and defuse clashes; and 3. Once having captured power, communal forces tend to stop using communal appeal in elections which account (partially) for a drop in Hindu-Muslim violence. In the context of the research you have done, how true or accurate are these hypothesis?
1. Hindu-Muslim conflict has spread into villages in western UP, in eastern UP into small towns with some spread into surrounding countryside. Three reasons are responsible: use of social media to spread messages through Whatsapp, SMS, Face book, e-mail and Twitter. Also during the 2014 national elections in UP, the BJP used more than 400 GPS-installed ‘Modi-vans’ to cover the dark areas beyond media’s reach to spread their message of Hindutva and development.
Second, ‘r-urbanisation’ that is the growth of large villages with good facilities and links to urban areas in western UP the most developed part of the state: roads connecting to highways, more than one primary, middle and secondary school, health care facilities, bus facilities, a hospital, college, commercial bank, post-office, train stations and towns close-by, creating politically conscious villages and enabling rapid spread of news and political meetings. Third, villages such as Lisard, Kutba, and Fugana, which formed the epicenter of the Muzaffarnagar riots, were consciously selected by the BJP-RSS in the early 2000s as they have a large landowning Jat population, local leaders such as Sangeet Som and Sanjeev Baliyan, were experiencing agrarian crisis and lack of employment, rendering them vulnerable to institutionalised everyday communalism.
2. Civic engagement, based on socio-economic relationships between Jats and Muslims in western UP and Muslim weavers and Hindu tradesmen in eastern UP, broke down in the 2000s. The Jats as landowners and Muslims as labourers on their fields had fairly harmonious relations and a political alliance during the Charan Singh period, which gradually broke down due to the deepening agrarian distress, crisis in the sugar industry in Muzaffarnagar which led to mills not paying farmers, lack of jobs for their sons and non-fulfilment of the promise of reservation, which created anxieties and unhappiness among the Jats.
Second, a perception that the Muslims, who do not own land and who have taken to petty businesses, are doing well leading to social jealousies together with the belief, fanned by social media, that they attempt Love Jihad with Hindu girls. Similarly in eastern UP, already existing friction between weavers and tradesmen increased due to the decline of the weaving industry visible in the targeting of Muslim establishments during the riots in Mau. In Gorakhpur, mobilisation by a new, independent, rightwing power-centre under Adityanath created deep-seated polarisation breaking down earlier close Hindu-Muslim relationships. These latent feelings made both communities highly susceptible to the everyday, sustained, communal mobilisation pursued since the early 2000s along social/religious divides that led to petty conflicts leading finally riots in eastern UP in 2005 and 2007 and in western UP in 2013.
3. After capture of power by the BJP, both at the centre and in UP, use of communal appeal in elections has not lessened because the rightwing forces have a dual agenda: political to capture state power, and cultural to use this power to create a ‘Hindu’ society and nation and install a “normalised” oppression in which the Muslim is the ‘other’. This in turn it is hoped, ensures that in the next round of elections, the BJP is able to come to power with the support of its Hindu vote-bank and implement its cultural agenda everywhere.
Your book says there was rise of a wave of communalisation at the turn of the century after relative calm in the period that followed the demolition of the Babri Masjid. What are the causes of the rise in communal violence?
The 2000s have witnessed a post-Ayodhya phase of communalism, different in terms of Hindutva ideology and mobilisational methods, from the early 1990s. The immediate reason was the defeat of the BJP in the 2004 and 2009 national elections, which led many in the party to argue for the revival of Hindutva ideology and communal polarisation. Our fieldwork points to a two stage, institutionalised everyday communalism in UP, the first begun quietly at the grassroots from the early 2000s onwards by local leaders selected by the RSS-BJP, aimed at creating a strong Hindu identity and support base. This unnoticed, but fairly successful, preparatory phase was built upon by a more open, long and divisive election campaign prior to the 2014 national elections by a new generation leadership in the BJP led by Narendra Modi. Modi redefined Hindutva as subaltern, and socially inclusive of the lower castes, and intertwined it with the notion of development, which further appealed to this section creating the Muzaffarnagar riots. In eastern UP, mobilisation began early under Yogi Adityanath and the HYV leading to the Mau 2005 and Gorakhpur 2007 riots.
What role does caste play in this?
Caste-based mobilisation has been significant. While in the 1980s/90s Hindutva was supported/identified largely with the upper castes Narendra Modi redefined it as subaltern or ‘non-Brahminical’ Hindutva and deftly intertwined it with the promise of development — the ‘Gujarat model’ — to gain the support of the non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits. Based on this Maha Hindu identity, a new social coalition was built consisting of the upper castes, sections of the backwards and Dalits to create communal divides and win elections. In the east, the Gorakhnath mutt being a non-Brahminical institution had already begun this process. Everywhere this was possible due to globalisation — experienced late in UP — generating the desire among the lower castes to catch up with better-off states and culturally to be included as ‘Hindu’. Disillusioned with the SP and BSP, these castes were in search of a party that could provide them not only self-respect but also economic betterment, making them greatly vulnerable to mobilisation by the BJP-RSS.
You have studied communal politics in Uttar Pradesh in great detail. Inequalities and acute poverty continues to be a factor. To this is added the sense of aspiration and economic anxiety. But isn’t this always an element in UP politics? What has changed?
The 2000s have witnessed rapid shift from identity politics to aspiration against the backdrop of globalisation particularly among the upwardly mobile, educated section. Slow economic growth, decline in industry, deepening agrarian crisis, lack of non-agricultural jobs - while many states have a growing IT and professional private sector — has created immense frustration among the younger generation. Simultaneously, cultural modernisation among the poorer MBCs and smaller Dalit groups entering the mainstream has created a desire to be counted as ‘Hindu’. The rise of a small entrepreneurial class among the Muslims and a perception that they are doing better, has produced social jealousies. These developments have been assiduously fanned by the BJP-RSS creating deep-seated polarisation between Hindus and Muslims.
To reassert the might and reach of the state and its identification with right law abiding people, UP is seeing a wave of confrontation between forces of lawlessness and the police. Interestingly, lawless forces are identified quite openly by the UP Chief Minister as the minorities. We saw the same thing in Gujarat. Is this also an element of everyday communalism and where is this going to lead?
In recent years, there has been communalisation of the police and local administration; communal riots were basically breakdown of law and order due to connivance of the ruling dispensation for electoral gain, harnessed by rightwing forces to create divides. The present confrontation is not an attempt to improve law and order; it targets the minorities and attempts to create deeper and more permanent divides between them and the majority community.