Was the "beef" rumour in Dadri aimed at executing another Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh?
This question is doing the rounds in the capital's neighbouring state, where the politics of polarisation triggered by the Muzaffarnagar riots gave Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) an unprecedented victory, with the party winning 73 of the state's 80 Lok Sabha seats in 2014, enabling Narendra Modi to become prime minister.
What seems to be giving credence to such an impression is the revelation that the rumour about beef being stored and consumed in the house of Mohammad Akhlaq, who was lynched in Dadri on Monday night, was false and motivated.
"Our animal husbandry department experts have confirmed that the meat sample collected from the victim's home was prima facie mutton and not cow's meat", said Gautam Budh Nagar (Noida) district magistrate NP Singh, whose prompt intervention at the crime scene ensured the situation did not take any ugly turn. "We have sent the meat sample for scientific examination to the food laboratory in Mathura also", he said. Singh, who was credited with the deft handling of the post-riot situation in Shamli, which witnessed communal violence soon after Muzaffarnagar, made it a point to reach the spot within 90 minutes of the incident. And the first thing he ensured through the night was the arrest of the culprits, who had stormed into the house of the 50-year old Akhlaq and lynched him, while causing critical injuries to his 22-year-old son and leaving his wife and daughter completely traumatised.
He said, "I would not be surprised if the incident was intended to give spark to a situation like Muzaffarnagar". Only two years ago, a spate of riots in the district left 62 dead, hundreds wounded and over 55,000 displaced.
"While seven of the ten accused have already been arrested, a manhunt has been launched for the remaining three, whom we hope to track down by tonight", he asserted. "Though their formal association with any fundamentalist organisation was still being probed, it was quite apparent that each of the arrested persons held very rabid views on Hindutva", said the district magistrate.
Significantly, the assailants were in the 20-25 age group. Among the arrested, were also the two young men who specially went to the neighbourhood temple and gave a call to mobilise other villagers before breaking into Akhlaq's house together. What surprised the DM the most was the fact that people in the neighbourhood were generally all praise for Akhlaq, who was well known as the village blacksmith. "Yet, I made it a point to talk to prominent and influential locals belonging to both the communities and pacify the rising tempers, which could foment serious trouble", he said. "Flocking of people from neighbouring villages was also prevented and we are particularly on a round-the-clock vigil to ensure a fool-proof check on rumour-mongering", he added. The manner in which some BJP leaders were trying to give the murder a twist as an outcome of "violation of the cow slaughter law" also reflects the apparent saffron design behind what could be a pre-meditated campaign to incite communal passions.
With the ruling Samajwadi Party having burnt their fingers in Muzaffarnagar, where they failed in their discreet bid to reap any harvest out of the politics of polarisation, ignited by the BJP, official action in Dadri remained strictly objective. No wonder the situation could be brought under control within no time.
What, however, remains to be seen is whether BJP also shuns the temptation to draw political mileage out of the ghastly incident, which some members of the saffron brigade were trying to trivialise by giving it the twist of "cow slaughter" - which stands banned in the state since September 12, 2002, prior to which cows and bulls of more than 15 years of age were allowed to be slaughtered.
While there was no restriction on the slaughter of buffalo or the sale of its meat, cow slaughter was prohibited in across Uttar Pradesh. "That was the time when an amendment was brought in the UP Cow Slaughter Prohibition Act 1955 that originally allowed slaughter of non-milking cows and aged bulls, which could not be put to any kind of use in agricultural farms", said a top official of the animal husbandry department, which has given licences to 38 slaughter houses that export buffalo meat and produce leather in a big way. Subsequently, all cows and bulls, irrespective of age, were meant to die only due to natural causes and kept in "Gaushalas" (cowsheds) specially created in each of the state's 75 districts, where the local, state-run agricultural "mandis" (marketing units) would provide funding to meet expenses. The official said, "Since we run a program to ensure vaccination of all cows and buffaloes, the count of cows in the state stands at 1.89 crore; of these nearly 40,000 were non-milking cows, accommodated in 488 gaushalas across the state."
Sure enough, this amendment in the 1955 Act was brought about during a regime led by BJP, whose leaders are now busy trying to paint the Dadri killing as a reaction to a violation of the said law. What they seem to be deliberately overlooking is that even if poor Akhlaq had some "beef" in his fridge, it could only be buffalo meat, which is legally and freely allowed to be sold and consumed. However, evidently, the saffron brigade now also wants to decide what you will keep in your private refrigerator and what will be served on your dining table. What purpose would that serve other than vitiating the communal environment and accentuating the politics of polarisation, which may come in handy in the 2017 polls in UP?