With incidents of violence, many with communal undertones, occurring at regular intervals, it has become tricky to analyse the law-and-order situation in Uttar Pradesh (UP). Home to a population of more than 200 million of diverse demographic profiles and ethnicity, the state makes for a fragile communal conundrum.
Traditionally known to epitomise the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb (a euphemism for the peaceful co-existence of the Hindu and Muslim cultures), the state is volatile enough for a stray rumour to fan communal tensions.
So, it was no surprise when Saharanpur in western UP recently witnessed communal violence between Sikhs and Muslims over a land dispute. The violence left three dead and scores wounded, even as it scarred the collective psyche of the locals, who have, by and large, coexisted peacefully in the district.
This was preceded by violence in Moradabad, when a loudspeaker was removed from a place of worship. Of late, western districts of UP, where the population of Muslims is significantly higher than other parts of the state, have been reporting sporadic incidents of communal clashes.
Since Akhilesh Yadav took charge as chief minister in March 2012, instances of communal violence have been one too many. In the two and half years under him, the law-and-order situation presents a sordid picture.
Though UP has witnessed communal riots in the past, these were broadly an urban phenomenon. Now, however, communal flames have engulfed the hinterland, the recent events being a red flag to the trend.
In August-September last year, when communal riots hit Muzaffarnagar, with the Hindu Jat community and the Muslims pitched on either side, about 60 people were killed and 50,000 displaced. The aftershocks were felt in the neighbouring districts of Bijnor, Meerut, Baghpat and Saharanpur.
As the country was headed for the general elections at that time, the incidents led to unprecedented communal polarisation, much to the benefit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP); the riots consolidated Hindu votes behind the BJP, across caste lines. The party, along with its ally Apna Dal, won 73 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in the state, decimating the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
In the run-up to the general elections, the perception that SP leaders were brazenly indulging in appeasing the Muslims gained ground, helped to some extent when party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav declared that the community had contributed the most towards the state's development. It gathered weight, when the government removed a young Indian Administrative Service officer, Durga Shakti Nagpal, when she "dared" to stop the construction of a mosque, allegedly on a disputed piece of land in Noida. Nagpal had merely followed a Supreme Court order that barred any unauthorised construction.
Political commentator Sudhir Panwar believes religious and caste demographics in UP and the strategy of various political parties to win the elections led to the recent spurt in communal violence. He says the trend began in 1990, with the Ram temple movement, spearheaded by BJP. The incident had polarised the Hindus and the BJP ascended the power ladder.
"Later, the SP and the BSP competed for the Muslim vote, which ranged from 12 per cent to 49 per cent across constituencies, and adopted an approach of transferring their core vote base to a Muslim candidate, an appeasement policy for Muslims," he said.
Latest home ministry data show UP recorded 247 incidents of communal violence/riots in 2013, the most in the country. Of the 133 lives lost in India due to communal violence that year, the state accounted for 77. In 2012, too, the state topped the list, witnessing 118 communal incidents, in which 39 people were killed and 500 injured. During April-June this year, the state accounted for the highest number of communal violence-related cases, at 32, followed by Maharashtra (26) and Rajasthan (18).
These figures point to Akhilesh Yadav's sheepish grip over the state's law-and-order situation and the failure of the state's administrative and intelligence machinery to pre-empt violence.
A recent US report had listed UP, along with Syria and other violence-hit regions, in terms of the number of communal riots.
The SP leadership, however, seems unperturbed by the sullied perception, instead blaming the media of over-hyping such incidents.
Now, a fresh case of a poor Hindu girl allegedly being kidnapped, raped and forcibly converted to Islam in Meerut has hit the headlines. After opposition parties demanded immediate action in the case, senior SP leader Ram Gopal Yadav rubbished the episode, saying it was a media creation.
With each passing day, the clamour for the dismissal of the state government and imposition of President's Rule is growing louder.
UP is heading towards by-polls for 12 Assembly seats. With the 2017 Assembly elections in sight, the state is set for another round of politicking and trading of charges.
The cold vibes, it seems, might be here to stay.