The communal pot is boiling in Madhya Pradesh

Published: April 12, 2016 - 17:26

The situation in Seoni is getting worse by the day
Suresh Bafna Seoni

Recently I visited Narsinghpur and Seoni districts of Madhya Pradesh and found that the communal situation there is getting from bad to worse each passing day. According to sources, six months back in the nearby town of Barghat, there was a road rage incident, in which a local BJP leader was murdered by some Muslim youths.  After this incident, a dangerous communal clash took place and the town was under curfew for almost a week. After a few weeks when the alleged killers came out on bail, there was a procession taken out in Barghat, and again there was stone pelting and police firing. A Hindu was killed, and the situation became tense again. Given this recent history, this area is a veritable tinderbox. During any Muslim festival, you will find the city covered in large swathes of green. During a Hindu festival, you will find that the whole city is immersed in saffron color. Seoni is an impoverished district of Madhya Pradesh, and water scarcity is increasing every passing year.  The government talks a lot of employment generation, but the on ground situation is abysmal. The government has not even disbursed the payments which are due to workers employed under the MNREGA scheme. Employment avenues in the district are shrinking, and it’s causing a lot of communal tension. Seoni was once a Congress stronghold. However, things have changed considerably in the last fifteen years with the district becoming a BJP bastion. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan may be saying the politically correct thing to ward off any communal tension, but many of his party leaders and Hindu outfits associated with the Sangh Parivar blatantly ignore his pep talk on communal harmony.

Their aim is to mobilize Hindus by fear mongering. Therefore, every Hindu festival or event becomes an occasion to show that Hindus are getting united and that they will not tolerate any activities which they consider anti-national. Ram Navami is a crucial event in the calendar of the RSS. On the first day of Navratra, many Hindu organizations jointly organized a motorcycle rally. Huge flex banners of Ram had been put up at strategic points of the town. One NSUI leader figured prominently in these banners, indicating that he has also jumped onto the Hindu bandwagon. This town has not witnessed such an unprecedented Hindu mobilization on this scale. Two disc jockeys and their music systems were part of the rally. Participants were shouting incendiary slogans. Most of them were unemployed youth draped in saffron coloured clothes. They were not there to celebrate the Hindu festival, but to make a political statement. In the afternoon news spread that in a Muslim-dominated area, stones were pelted at the procession and some miscreants had tried to damage a fruit sellers’ cart.  Shopkeepers immediately closed their shops and people on the road started heading towards their homes. Thanks to the prompt civil and police administration action, the situation was quickly brought under control. The organisers of the rally were subsequently arrested. This proves the point that if the local administration acts in a free and fair manner, a potentially explosive communal situation can be controlled effectively.

Since the BJP is in power in Madhya Pradesh, it has to accept the fact that fringe Hindu organisations are increasingly becoming mainstream and making it difficult for the administration to control the law and order situation. The Muslims in Madhya Pradesh constitute 6.57 per cent of the total population. We can’t remain in denial about the fact that the Muslim community constantly feels threatened by the rabble-rousing of extremist Hindu organisations. If they feel isolated and alienated, then it will have serious repercussions on the safety and security of our country. At the same time we must accept the fact that amongst the Muslim community, there are powerful elements which will keep the communal pot boiling so that their political and social control over the community remains intact. It is an unfortunate situation that no political force on the ground is active or capable of fighting this communal onslaught. In this given scenario, the biggest challenge is that of how to combat communal elements of both the communities and at the same time ensure that the constitutional rights of minorities are protected.