Communal rhetoric intensifies in western UP as polling date nears

  • | Wednesday | 17th April, 2024

As the first phase of polling in the Lok Sabha election approaches, western Uttar Pradesh, characterised by a significant Muslim population, is witnessing a troubling surge in communal rhetoric. Contentious issues have come to the forefront of campaigning, exposing the deep-seated communal fault lines in the region. Terms like exodus, curfew, fatwa and riots dominate the political discourse, setting a charged atmosphere for the upcoming polling in the eight Lok Sabha constituencies of western UP going to polls in the first phase. Uttar Pradesh is a hotbed of communal polarisation because it benefits all political parties. If the Bharatiya Janata Party gains from issues like fatwas and curfews, the Samajwadi Party and Congress mobilise Muslims by instilling fear of Hindu majoritarianism, remarks political analyst Rajesh N Bajpai, reflecting on the complex dynamics at play. Communal politics has historically dominated western Uttar Pradesh. This history includes events like the exodus claim made by BJP leader Hukum Singh in 2016-17 and the handling of the Muzaffarnagar riots by the then ruling SP. The embers of that riot still singe, and exodus and Muzaffarnagar riots are still part of the political discourse, Bajpai noted. The BJP has strategically focused on issues such as the alleged Hindu exodus, communal disturbances leading to prolonged curfews, disruptions to religious pilgrimages like the kanwar yatras, issuance of fatwas and obstacles to the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya. This approach appears tailored to mobilise Hindu voters in their favour. Meanwhile, Congress candidate Imran Masood, previously embroiled in controversy for remarks against then-prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in 2014, has been observed publicly visiting temples and engaging in Hindu rituals, signaling a shift in strategy. During a rally in Deoband, an important Islamic centre in Saharanpur, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath alleged that chaos and religious extremism were propagated through fatwas from Deoband, condemning previous governments for fostering religious fanaticism in the seminary. Yogi Adityanath also accused the Congress and Samajwadi Party of capitulating to mafia elements, highlighting his governments decisive action against them, with individuals like Atiq Ahmad, his brother Ashraf, and Mukhtar Ansari facing consequences. Earlier, during a rally in Meerut, Yogi Adityanath contrasted the choice between peaceful religious processions like kanwar yatras and communal unrest marked by curfews, appealing to the sentiments of the crowd. Addressing a rally in Muzaffarnagar, Union Home Minister Amit Shah referred to the exodus of Hindus from Kairana and other areas before the BJP assumed power in UP in 2017, asserting that the current administration has restored law and order. Similarly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterated blame on the Congress and other opposition parties for obstructing the construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya, positioning the BJP as the champion of Hindu aspirations. Political analyst Manoj Bhadra emphasised the significance of development and law enforcement in favour of the BJP in western UP, noting a fear of polarisation within the Congress-SP alliance due to the increasing consolidation of Hindu voters. He observed a shift in rhetoric among leaders like Imran Masood towards advocating Hindu-Muslim harmony, potentially influenced by changing electoral dynamics.

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