Mulayam's Mau mascot

Freelance mafia don Mukhtar Ansari could become a tacit trump card for the discredited SP and BJP in the assembly elections in UP Pranay Krishna Srivastava AllahabadMafia don Mukhtar Ansari has been let off yet again. His dubious and transparent role in the Mau riots (October 14 to October 16, 2005) signified the emergence of a new, sinister combination in the high-intensity, but often invisible, communal politics of Uttar Pradesh (UP). It started at a conjuncture when the BJP was desperate for revival and Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav was facing tough competition from the Congress to retain the Muslim base in the state, especially after the installation of the UPA government at the Centre. Mau fell victim to the unscrupulous, competitive politics of the power elite. Mau used to be part of district Azamgarh in eastern UP. Now the district has a population of 18.6 lakh, with a rural population of about 15 lakh. Of this, 80 per cent are Hindus, most of who live in rural areas. Muslims constitute 20 per cent of the population of which 60 per cent are urban dwellers. Mau is a significant centre of sari production, owing its fame in particular to silk saris. There are approximately 75,000 power looms of which nearly 60,000 are based in the city. On an average, almost 1.5 lakh saris are weaved on a daily basis. Several members of one family work on one loom and a full day’s labour produces on an average two saris. Currently, the troubled sari trade in Mau is undergoing a period of economic crisis. Saris from Surat have begun to give tough competition to the sari industry in Mau with weavers unable to withstand this competition. This has led to a sharp decline in the weavers’ wages in Mau. Earlier, work on one sari fetched Rs 80, but the wages have now been reduced to Rs 40. Similarly, embroidery fetched Rs 150 earlier, but now has gone down to Rs 80-85. The wages after a full day’s work is not of one worker only — it is the combined labour of many members of a family working on one loom. Paradoxically, there is not only competition but also a certain commonality between the looms of Mau and Surat. They occasionally get burnt, sometimes along with those who work on them, when organised communal frenzy is orchestrated. Those familiar with the intermittent riots at Madanpura in Varanasi would testify that it unfailingly springs from the contradictions of the trade, whereby Hindu traders resort to non-economic means to oust Muslim traders who have graduated from the ranks of loom workers and offer better terms to the wholesale urban traders. With a history of sectarian violence and the political atmosphere of surrounding districts manipulated by the mafias of Mukhtar Ansari (MLA from Mau) and Brijesh Singh, and the recent proliferation of communal networks in eastern UP led by VHP’s Mahanta Adityanath of Gorakhpur, Mau became an obvious laboratory for testing a new brand of vicious social engineering. On October 9, 2005, while the platform for Durga Puja was being set up, some beams crossed over into the premises of the Faiz-e-Aam madarsa building upon which some prominent Muslim citizens objected. This was followed by mild stone-pelting after which both sides sat together and resolved the issue with the help of the district administration. On October 13, at about 8 pm, the loudspeaker at the Bharat Milap platform was blaring at high volume; this coincided with the taravi namaaz — the Koranic recitation in the month of Ramzaan at Katra Masjid, situated directly opposite the platform. This led to minor skirmishes, but finally, by midnight, the district administration reached an understanding with the RSS leaders on postponing Bharat Milap till October 29. The riots started on the morning of October 14, when Ajit Singh Chandel, the district chief of Hindu Mahasabha, along with Puneet Singh Chandel and Sujit Kumar Singh of Hindu Yuva Vahini, linked to the Hindutva forces, opened fire at a Muslim crowd injuring five Muslim youths. This fact was totally suppressed in the media with dubious complicity of the Mulayam Singh Yadav government which kept mum on the real reasons which triggered the riots. This was the deliberate beginning of the riots under the pretext of opposing the postponement of Bharat Milap. For the next 72 hours, rioting continued with hundreds of shops, homes, looms, factories, even schools and hospitals ransacked and gutted, while 11 people were killed. Both communities suffered equally, and terribly. For the first time, the riots spread to the rural areas.In the heart of the city, the Hindu shops targeted were clearly those which had RSS connections. In many areas, the PAC led the mobs to the Muslim areas with identified leaders of the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leading the mobs. The communal divide cut across the established socio-political alliances. Indeed, deep animosity between the Muslims and other backward castes was a fact, especially in the rural areas where the networks of Hindutva organisations operated. The administration was paralysed and despite curfew, mobs of 200-250, attacked openly, without fear.In a calculated strategy, the RSS effectively turned Mukhtar Ansari into a mascot of the Mau riots. The contradiction between Mukhtar and the ruling SP for political hegemony over Muslims in the region was turned into a strategic advantage. It was a masterly display of political semiotics. After all, who could be a better symbol of Muslim aggression than a notorious mafia don? The RSS had a different game plan — to instigate riots in Muslim majority areas where Muslims would not take it lying down and would retaliate. Thus, this would feed into the narrative of Hindu persecution and Muslim aggression which would eventually bring back the Hindu constituency. Reportedly, in the Sangh Parivar’s strategy, Mau had to be developed as an epicentre of a communal conflagration which would engulf the entire state. The pattern of riots instigated by the RSS during and after at Mau bears this out. Bhimpura (Ballia), Qasimabad,   Bahariabad, Bahadurganj (Gazipur), Dosepur (Barabanki), Manjhanpur (Kosambi), Kotwa (Varanasi), Machhreta (Sitapur) and some areas of Pratapgarh and Agra, where similar attempts were made, were Muslim majority areas. The riots went on unabated for 72 hours. The manner in which the SP government kept mum while the RSS and BJP leaders went on a huge propaganda campaign of ‘Hindu genocide’ at Mau, the stage-managed surrender of Mukhtar Ansari, and BJP MLC Ramji Singh and the Chandel brothers of Hindu Yuva Vahini, explains the direct complicity of the SP regime. And the BJP's role in the formation of the current SP regime is not a hidden fact anymore.Witness the editorial comment of the RSS mouthpiece, Panchjanya (September 7, 2003): "… even those who nursed the bitterest of feelings against Mulayam, would always be grateful to him, for it was because of him that the country was saved from the spectacle of Sonia Gandhi coming to power. Everything else is secondary… For the time being, therefore, let us celebrate Mayawati's departure." There are several instances of the covert SP-BJP collaboration. The Mau riots were the murkiest. It was left to forces like the CPI-ML (Liberation), which exposed the sinister mechanics of the riots and put the government on the defensive. Besides, the common people saw through the game.  Ordinary Hindus and Muslims risked their lives, helping each other. Despite the propaganda of a ‘Hindu genocide’ and criminal silence of the UP government, no Hindu household claimed any missing member in the entire district. That is why, when, on November 29, 2005, soon after the Mau violence, the BJP MLA from the adjoining Muhammadabad constituency was killed in the on-going gang war between Mukhtar Ansari and Brijesh Singh, the BJP just could not capitalise on the murder, despite visits by LK Advani and AB Vajpayee. Indeed, a free-floating Mukhtar Ansari could be a tacit trump card for the discredited SP and BJP in the coming assembly elections in the state. And if we hear scattered stories of riots in UP, certainly, it might just be following the tested Mau-script. The writer teaches in Allahabad University and was part of a fact-finding team after the Mau riots