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Issue 8

Leading up to the Historic Mahapanchayat: Hindu-Muslim Relationship Since 2013 in West UP

Nakul Singh Sawhney

What we do know is that the recent events at West UP will go a long way in healing and bringing back some peace in the troubled parts of West UP. Even personal relations between Hindus and Muslims will witness renegotiations. This is not to suggest that this changes everything. But each of these steps count for something.

Social media is fuelled with people expressing apprehensions and even anger over all the excitement around Rakesh Tikait who recently extended his support to the protesting farmers at Ghazipur border. Rakesh Tikait is the farmer leader and spokesperson of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU). Most of the public anger stems from BKU’s role in the 2013 sectarian violence in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts. 

Source: https://youtu.be/E4l2wCeRXtk

What Followed Was Regret & A Call For Unity

It has been over seven and a half years since that madness engulfed West UP. We saw BKU split while many new factions emerged. The noticeable split was the breaking away of Ghulam Mohammad Jaula, the biggest Muslim leader of BKU, often considered as late Baba Tikait’s right-hand-man. 

Interestingly, once when Ajit Singh (founder and Chief of Rashtriya Lok Dal, political party in West UP), and son Jayant Chaudhry (RLD leader) lost elections in 2014, many older Jats in the region were crestfallen. Many of them sobbed, “humne chaudhary sahab ko kaise hara diya.” Many Jats were always upset with their younger generation for indulging in violence that occurred in 2013. Secretly between those sobs, they’d often say, “hope it’s not too late before our youngsters realize where they’ve gone wrong.” This is not to insinuate that elders from the community were not involved in the violence. But those who had seen the heydays of BKU and RLD understood the futility of the madness. They understood that Muslims of the region were an inseparable part of their existence (within which there are contradictions of caste among Muslims in the region – but that’s another topic of discussion).

Some local level Jat leaders such as Vipin Singh Baliyan among others, have put in their share of effort to undo the Hindu-Muslim rift. Those efforts, while commendable, were small and acted as only a small drop in an ocean of hatred and bitterness that West UP had become. Around five years after the riots, there were, finally joint Hindu-Muslim Kisan Panchayats which were led by people like Thakur Puran Singh, Ghulam Mohammad Jaula etc.

Finally, there was a massive rally led by Rakesh Tikait that came to Delhi with a set of ten demands, just before the 2019 elections. Both Hindu and Muslim farmers particpated in that rally. Many other Unions extended support to the movement. Delhi was again under siege. Even though all the demands had not been met, the rally was called off. Many were upset, and felt that he had been bought over by BJP. After 2019, there were many protests in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts led by BKU. What was interesting – the presence of many Muslim farmers in at protest demonstrations. Many were post-holders of BKU as well. It was evident that Rakesh Tikait was trying hard to revive BKU while Naresh Tikait (the current President of BKU and elder brother to Rakesh Tikait) had evidently been sidelined. 

The Trust Deficit

In the 2013 Mahapanchayat where BJP had completely hijacked the BKU stage, it was Nresh Tikait who was seen on that stage with BJP leaders. He continued to make inflammatory statements even after the 2013 violence in the districts. Over the last two-three years, it seems that Rakesh has taken over the reins of the Union and sidelined Naresh because of the communal politics that one has begun to associate him with. Whether this is an ideological clash between the two brothers or a tactical move, only they know. 

Once the anti-farm bills reached the borders of Delhi, eyes were set on borders lining Ghazipur as well. Why wasn’t West UP joining the protests with the same intensity and fervour that their farm movements have been known for in the past? Truth be told, while many farmers were very keen to join the movement, there laid a massive trust deficit with Rakesh Tikait. Many suspected that he was a BJP agent who could flip any minute.

Towards Bridging the Divide

However, the events on the night of 27th January at Ghazipur border changed that perception. A large police contingent was out to remove the protesting farmers from the border. The very emotional appeal by Rakesh Tikait in a video message where he was seen crying has stirred West UP farmers in action. Among the most prominent words he said was the admission of guilt of once having supported BJP, a decision he said will always regret. That night saw thousands of people gathering outside Tikait’s house in Sisauli village in Muzaffarnagar district. Two days later, on 29th January, a historic Mahapanchayat attended by several thousands, took place in the district. 

Among the key speakers at the Panchayat was Ghulam Mohammad Jaula. He minced no words. “The two biggest mistakes you’ve made so far,” he said, “one, you got Ajit Singh defeated, and two, you killed Muslims.” Interestingly, there was no booing, no attempts at shutting him up. A pin-drop silence. Introspection. Other speakers added, “we will never get carried away by BJP again.” A very rare decision taken at the historic Mahapanchayat – to boycott the BJP. Rare for maha-panchayats to publicly disown a political party.

Even today as the groundswell of support from farmers continues to increase at the Ghazipur border from districts like Baghpat, Muzaffarnagar, Shamli, Meerut etc., similar views are echoed. “2013 was a big mistake.” “BJP abused our anger, and we got carried away.” “BJP and SP are responsible for the 2013 situation.” And most importantly, “BJP grew in West UP in 2013 because of Muzaffarnagar riots, it’s downfall will also begin in the same Muzaffaranagar.” The most prominent slogans of BKU, “Har Har Mahadev, Allahu-Akbar,” which echoed through the boat club in 1988 may soon be back.  

The Unanswerable Questions, and Small Steps

Does this easily erase the past? Does this heal wounds of 2013? 

As someone who made a film on the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots and having witnessed the trauma, destruction and polarisation they had caused, I don’t have an answer. Maybe. Maybe not. Those 60,000 people, essentially Muslims, who were displaced and will never go back to their native villages. Should many, who were responsible for the violence, but today regret the past be given a clean chit? Is this genuine redressal? We don’t have any answers. What we do know is that West UP has suffered enormously in the past. The spiralling effects have been grave. Many continue to suffer.Yogi as the CM wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for 2013, and perhaps Modi as PM as well. What we do know is that the recent events at West UP will go a long way in healing and bringing back some peace in the troubled parts of West UP. Even personal relations between Hindus and Muslims will witness renegotiations. This is not to suggest that this changes everything. But each of these steps count for something. 

While many raise apprehensions about Rakesh Tikait even now, and perhaps rightly so, one needs to approach the situation with patience in these difficult times as such churnings are crucial. The damage that the ruling government has done to India will take long to be amended. Sometimes even fraught with contradictions. Impulsive reactions won’t help anyone. Many fault lines still exist in West UP. Unlike Punjab where militant Farmers’ Unions have been active for many decades, Haryana and even West UP (including BKU) rely on Khaps to mobilize farmers. Feudal attitudes will take time to break down. But the Mahapanchayat on the 29th was a sure, small but significant step towards democratization of that society.  

Image Credits: National Herald

Nakul Singh Sawhney is an independent documentary filmmaker. His notable feature length documentary films include, ‘Izzatnagari ki Asabhya Betiyaan’ and ‘Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai…’. He is the founder of a film media collective in West UP, called ChalChitra Abhiyaan. ChalChitra Abhiyaan trains youth from marginalised communities in West UP to make their own videos on relevant issues in the area. These videos have often brought out grassroots news to the public domain on contentious issues when the mainstream media has looked away. The collective also screens their videos and other films (both Indian and international) in various villages and townships of West UP.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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