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HT EDIT-The onus is on the BJP in UPYogi Adityanath must reach out to Muslims, restore order

December 23, 2019 05:17 AM

The protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act have taken the highest toll on life in Uttar Pradesh (UP). Over 15 people are reported dead; hundreds are injured; there are unconfirmed reports of widespread detentions; public property has been vandalised; Internet services have been shut in many parts of the state; and there is a palpable sense of anxiety and fear among residents.

To understand the nature of the protests, and the excessive and disproportionate police response, it is useful to look at UP’s demography and political history. The state has over 20% Muslims, which is close to 40 million people. The state has also had a long history of inter-community tensions. In 2017, by achieving an overwhelming majority in the assembly polls, despite not giving any ticket to Muslims, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made history. It also, then, appointed Yogi Adityanath, who has had a history of practicing hardline majoritarian politics, as the chief minister. The Muslims were unhappy, but respected the electoral verdict. But repeated instances of lynching, a state administration which was perceived as turning a blind eye to minority grievances, the lack of political representation in both the assembly and Parliament, and consistent hate speech directed at the community had created a sullen mood. The Supreme Court verdict on Ayodhya reinforced the perception that this was an unfavourable and adverse political climate, but Muslims peacefully respected the verdict of the judiciary. But the passage of the CAA, and the proposed National Register of Citizens, has led to a major backlash from the community.

In a democracy, community-based mobilisation is legitimate. So are protests, as long as they are peaceful. By vandalising public property, protesters lost moral authority. But the primary fault for the violence in UP lies with the government. It’s intelligence-gathering was poor, for it should have read the mood, anticipated the protests, and prepared accordingly. The political and bureaucratic leadership made no effort to politically engage with the community and its leaders to defuse tensions. And then, when protests erupted, the government response was rather indiscriminate in its use of force. The CM’s language threatening revenge did not help. The detention of a journalist with The Hindu, who happens to be a Kashmiri Muslim, and the allegedly threatening and communal language used against him, is merely symptomatic of the kind of disturbing mindset that appears to prevail in the administration. The Yogi government must reach out to Muslims, allay apprehensions, and exercise its authority and restore order, but within the framework of law

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