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Muzaffarnagar riots: in the violence, signs of careful political design

Muzaffarnagar riots: in the violence, signs of careful political design
Muzaffarnagar The village of Fugana, like so many in the sugarcane belt of Western Uttar Pradesh, has been prosperous, but for the most part, it was a quiet one, with few flashpoints between the Hindu Jats who form the majority and a few hundred Muslim families, who work their fields.

The white-hot signs of how that changed this weekend are everywhere today - in the smattering of burnt down shops, abruptly untenanted homes, and the amputated activity in the streets. "Before this, everything was ok," says Tham Singh, the Jat pradhan of Fugana.

The communal violence that has mangled this part of Western Uttar Pradesh began late last month when two Jat boys killed a Muslim, Shahnawaz, who it was claimed was stalking their sister. Within an hour, they were killed by a Muslim mob.

So far, just one person, a relative of Shahnawaz, has been arrested for the triple murder that ignited riots in others villages with relentless velocity. At least 40 people have died since then.

Politicians from every major party traversed villages, delivering incendiary speeches at public meetings though large gatherings were banned after the Kawal violence.

In the district of Muzaffarnagar, Muslims constitute roughly 35 per cent of the population. Yet, the Jats feel their identity as a community has been slowly atrophying. For the last two elections, they have voted largely for the RLD, headed by Jat leader Ajit Singh.

The BJP claims that's not surprising because the state government, heavily dependent on Muslim voters, has been taking pro-minority decisions even if that endangers law and order. So Jats, the party claims, are slowly shifting their allegiance to the more right-wing BJP, which currently holds none of the six assembly seats in the district.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a Sangh affiliate, has thrown into the explosive mix the theory of "love-jihad" - it claims that young Muslim men are luring or abducting Hindu girls.

The Kawal violence, they claim, is proof. But the father of the young Muslim who died says his son was not harassing a Jat girl and that her brothers attacked him over a motorcycle accident.

There are signs of the growing saffronisation of the area - a gathering of thousands of Jat farmers on Saturday evening included swords and knives as part of a rally to demand justice for the two Jat boys who were killed in Kawal. The BJP's Hukum Singh addressed that rally. He says the crowd had two demands - to chant Hindutva slogans, and that he confirm his party's candidate for Prime Minister will be Narendra Modi, the politician often described as a polarising figure on account of the riots in his home state in 2002 in which hundreds of Muslims were killed.

If the Jats are indicating a willingness to flirt with the BJP, the Muslims also appear to be searching for options. Despite signs of rising tension, they say, the government failed to protect them. A man in the Muslim-majority village of Loi, says "the Samajwadi Party is behaving like Modi. Its leaders have betrayed Muslims."
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