The Congress’ top three leaders’, including the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, party president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi, visit to the riot-torn Muzaffarnagar after the district in western Uttar Pradesh suffered communally-incited tensions for one whole week, is clearly a case of too little too late. Although the allegations made by opposition leaders, saying that the tour of Muzaffarnagar was Congress’ indulgence in ‘secular tourism’, weren’t entirely correct, there’s no denying that the party leaders had alighted on the strife-ridden region to merely score brownie points and issue telegenic bytes for the media to consume and replay on the newschannels. The Monday’s visit by the big troika to the site that came under the shadow of deadly unrest that claimed almost 50 lives and displaced over 40,000 people, mostly Muslims, who are now living in makeshift refugee camps, has already come under scathing criticism from all quarters of the media and liberal sections of the civil society, for not only cashing on the fragile post-riot social fabric, but also for hogging maximum VIP security in a situation that has emerged from a serious lapse of security breach, with the army being called to bring the situation under control. While it was the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party government that faced the maximum flak, with the UP CM being greeted with black flags, protests and simmering anger when he visited the riot-torn district, it is also true that the lethal conflicts were, in fact, a cynical co-creation of almost all the political parties, whose nefarious intentions to incite communal passions in a delicate, pre-poll sociopolitical set up, resulted in an orchestrated riot, which polarised the communities more sharply than ever before along religious and caste lines.
It’s extremely deplorable that after 66 years of independence, what can divide India at the snap of a finger are the communal forces and base sectarian sentiments preaching overt jingoism, group aggression and an identity politics denuded of its original politics of radical self-assertion. Secularism, a founding principle of the Indian Constitution and a basic tenet of the India sociopolitical fabric, has now been relegated to appeasement of the fascist elements in every religious, caste- or language-based group, dubbing the empty display of sartorial gestures as more significant as actually doing good work on the ground. Moreover, whether the riots were fallout of the SP’s preventing of the 84-Kosi parikrama, it is equally true that the incendiary speeches by local political leaders were allowed to take place even though the situation was already tense. In other words, the allegations that the riots were the consequence of a deliberate détente between the various political parties, particularly the BJP and the SP have enough water in them. Notwithstanding the Congress’ lesser role in scheming the riots, the sight of the party top brass trying to ‘assuage’ the fears and further inflame the sectarian fires, is hypocritical to say the least, besides being too late to be effective. The least that can be done at this moment is to allow a fully-independent CBI investigation to take place, without undue pressure from any political factions, and granting adequate compensation to the victims of the riot. While comparisons with Godhra 2002 or Delhi 1984 are unmerited, the 2013 Muzaffarnagar communal strife, though not a systematic pogrom, was, nevertheless, the inevitable result of the hideous politics of polarisation that has reached its peak in the country. The strategic mobilisation of ugly sectarian interests, after six decades of being a secular, sovereign republic, is simply unpardonable.