Muzaffarnagar riots: Why Sahai report may spur fresh controversy

Sharat Pradhan
Sharat PradhanMar 07, 2016 | 18:31

Muzaffarnagar riots: Why Sahai report may spur fresh controversy

It is now official that the politics of polarisation discreetly played by the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) was the key to the party's unprecedented success at the 2014 Lok Sabha election in Uttar Pradesh where it scored a resounding 71/80-seat victory and propelled Narendra Modi to don the PM's crown.

The one-man judicial commission, constituted to go into the factors that led to large-scale communal violence in Muzaffarnagar and four adjoining districts in August-September 2013, has clearly indicated that the riots did come in handy to polarise society in western UP.


Surely, it could not have been sheer coincidence that BJP won every single seat in that vast belt. But whether the ruling Samajwadi Party too played ball in the hope that polarisation could also swing its political destiny, is a million-buck question that unwittingly emerges out of the report.

The 775-page voluminous account prepared by retired Allahabad High Court judge Vishnu Sahai over a span of two years, was tabled on the floor of the Uttar Pradesh state assembly on March 6, 2016. The report is fraught with inconsistencies and contradictions, largely arising on account of the commission's obvious inclination to shield the government of the day.

The report does explicitly talk about the role of two BJP MLAs, as also some Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leaders in inciting as well fuelling the communal violence that left as many as 62 dead, hundreds wounded and over 55,000 displaced from their homes for months in Muzaffarnagar and four adjoining districts of Shamli, Baghpat, Meerut and Saharanpur.

According to the report, if there was anyone who has been pointedly blamed for the riots, it was the two BJP MLAs, a former BSP MP and their cohorts, local intelligence officials and the media. An oblique reference has also been made to a veteran Congress leader and his son.


However, no senior government functionary, nor a single ruling party politician stand indicted, even as Justice Sahai himself mentions one SP leader Rashid Siddiqui as among those who delivered  provocative speeches at Shaheed Chowk in Muzaffarnagar on August 31, 2013, along with BSP and Congress leaders, against whom criminal cases were  promptly registered by the local police.

Interestingly, Justice Sahai does not recommend any action against any of the political bigwigs.  

The report tends to protect the state government and even goes to the extent of coming to its rescue at times. The findings were arrived at after making 11 visits to Muzaffarnagar, where each time, I held 7-10 day sittings at the camp office, to record evidence of as many as 377 witnesses from public and 101 government officials.

Yet, at times, perhaps inadvertently, it tends to suggest how certain avoidable actions of the state government only helped sharpen the communal divide and give boost to the politics of polarisation.

Communal polarisation

The report has identified 14 causes for the riots, which were seen as among the worst in the history of independent India. The foremost of these, according to the report, was "the communal divide between Muslims and Hindus becoming acute on account of some incidents which had taken place between them some months prior to August 27, 2013 (the date of the Kawal incident that triggered the violence) in UP, especially in the districts of Muzaffarnagar and Shamli".


Referring to the Kawal village incident, Justice Sahai points out, "it was crystal clear that although the main reason for the communal riots was the Kawal incident, [which took place in village Kawal in district Muzaffarmagar on August 27, 2013 in which three boys - Shahnawaz (Muslim), Sachin and Gaurav (both Hindus) - were killed , some months prior to August 27, 2013], communal divide between Muslims and Hindus had become acute in Western UP, especially in the districts of Muzaffarnagar and Shamli.

Scene in Muzaffarnagar during the August-September 2013 unrest.

The Kawal incident merely acted as a catalyst and also resulted in polarisation of society into segments - Hindus and Muslims. It is this polarisation which led to communal riots".It was, however, still not clear whether it was eve-teasing of Sachin's sister by Shahnawaz that provoked the murderous attack by Sachin and Gaurav, who subsequently themselves met the same fate in an act of reprisal by the locals, or if it was collision of motor-cycles belonging to the two sides that triggered the violence.    

Circulation of fake video

The circulation on WhatsApp and YouTube of a video clip, showing some brutal killing of an unknown individual (actually somewhere in the Taliban-infested Pakistan) passing off as the fatal lynching of the two Hindu boys, Sachin and Gaurav, in Kawal has also been described as "one of the potent reasons for the communal riots".

Holding Sangeet Som, and 229 others who shared the video clip, responsible for inciting communal hatred, Justice Sahai has stated in his report that the video clip, announcing "Dekho Sachin wa Gaurav ki hatya kis nirmam tarike se ki gayi hai" (See how brutally Sachin and Gaurav were done to death), was put up on YouTube on August 27 itself with the title, "It's not the end of love".

According to the report, inquries made in this connection by IG Meerut Zone, Brij Bhushan, revealed that "the clip [was] related to some incident in August 2012 and it was uploaded on YouTube by one Shivam along with Sangeet Som, MLA. From the language it appears that the incident shown in it pertains to some Western province of Pakistan".

The report goes on to add, "he immediately directed SSP Muzaffarnagar and CO (City) Muzaffaranagar that this video clip be deleted. He also had a talk with IG (STF) regarding the deletion of this video clip. CO (City) got this video clip deleted on the ground that it was promoting unrest and tension between Hindus and Muslims in Muzaffarnagar and adjoining districts. But, by the time it was deleted, a lot of tension had already been created between Hindus and Muslims in Muzaffarnagar and adjoining districts on account of it".

The report says, "in order to  ensure that people may not get a wrong impression from the aforesaid video clip on the night of August 29, 2013, the district magistrate and SSP of Muzaffarnagar had it conveyed through newspapers and TV channels that the said  video clip did not pertain to Kawal incident".

BJP vitiated and exploited a communally polarised atmosphere, says Sahai report.

This has come as some kind of ratification of widely carried news reports as well as findings of the local police about how BJP MLA Sangeet Som was actively behind uploading of the video clip that was clearly intended to vitiate the communal environment.

In fact, Sangeet Som was later arrested on that very charge following which the Akhilesh Yadav administration also slapped National Security Act (NSA) on him.   

Provocative speeches

The inquiry commission also sees provocative speeches given by Hindu and Muslim leaders as another key reason for the communal violence. "It is regrettable that neither Hindu nor Muslim leaders showed restraint. They gave no thought to the fact that communal harmony was the need of the hour, and since provocative speeches would endanger it, they [should] refrain from giving such speeches", laments Sahai, whose focus primarily remains on BJP leaders Sangeet Som and Suresh Rana, besides a former Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) MP Qadir Rana.

Failure of intelligence agencies

The commission has also pointedly blamed intelligence officials for failing to make correct assessment of the brewing communal situation in Muzaffarnagar. That was explicitly in reference to the "panchayat" convened by the BJP leaders in Nagla Mandaur village on September 7, 2013.

"Failure of intelligence agencies was a major reason for the riots. The evidence of Shri Brij Bhushan, IG, Meerut Zone, shows that intelligence input was that 15,000 - 20,000 people would be attending the panchayat at Nagla Mandaur on September 7, 2013, but actually 40,000 - 50,000 attended it. ... in view of the commission, all planning was bound to fail."

No bigwigs indicted

However, while indicting the man lowest in the rung, Justice Sahai goes on to defend the DM and SSP as well as the political masters holding the remote control from Lucknow. How could the retired judge expect senior IAS and IPS officers to blindly follow the intelligence inputs provided by a local intelligence inspector without using their own discretion is rather strange.

"The authorities in my view cannot be faulted when people in double the strength (of what had been reported by the intelligence agencies) attended the panchayat", asserts Sahai in defence of the senior officials.

As if to add insult to injury, the report states, "since provocative speeches delivered by Hindu leaders (especially Jats) during the panchayat provoked the Hindu crowd, it was only natural that while the Hindu crowd was returning from the panchayat [meeting], grievous riots took place on the date ... the panchayat [was held] i.e. September 7, 2013. Failure of intelligence was certainly, in my opinion, a major given reason for the riots."

Police incompetence has been blamed but SP government has been let off easily in the Sahai report.

The report squarely puts all the blame on the intelligence inspector. Dismissing the inspector's plea that the huge gathering at Nagla Mandaur panchayat on September 7 was impromptu, "In my view, the fact that between 40,000-50,000 people gathered at the panchayat of Nagla Mandaur on September 7, 2013 shows that it was not a gathering which took place on the spur of the moment, but was the result of elaborate prior planning about which intelligence inspector Prabal Pratap Singh could have been vigilant."

Media castigated

Relying entirely on the evidence of witnesses (mostly government officials) Justice Sahai has made scathing remarks against the print as well as social media. "The social and print media indulged in exaggerating reports about the incidents relating to the riots and in also spreading false rumours about riots", the report seeks to point out.

Interestingly, the evidence cited by him in this regard was that given by then DGP Devraj Nagar, the principal secretary (home) RM Srivastava and then SSP Muzaffarnagar Praveen Kumar, who were obviously averse to media reports criticising their inaction.

"I am of the view that a certain amount of restraint was required from the media in reporting incidents pertaining to the riots and its duty was to contain rumours, but regretfully, the media became oblivious of its social responsibility and some of its reporting flared the riots", the report alleges.

On transfers of SSP and DM

The only occasion where the report tends to question the state government's decision relates to the transfers of the then DM and SSP Muzaffarnagar when communal broke out initially on August 27, 2013.

While terming the transfers of then DM Surendra Singh and then SSP Manjul Saini as among the factors responsible for the riots, Justice Sahai reverts to promptly justify the transfers as having been ordered in view of a particular government order, which in para 7 says, "in case an incident of communal nature takes place in a district, stern action would be taken against the DM/SSP/SP".

He has failed to question whether such transfers were ordered in all cases of communal violence in other parts of the state.

However, in yet another contradictory mode, Sahai makes it a point to add, "their transfers resulted in antagonising the Hindu community (specially Jats) against the government and this antagonism on their part was a major reason for the riots".

The report states that the local Hindu community attributed these two transfers to the detention of eight Muslims by the state police in connection with the killing of Sachin and Gaurav in the Kawal incident. Soon after the two officers were shunted out of Muzaffarnagar, these eight persons were let off on the plea that their names did not figure in the FIR registered by the victim's father.

Says Justice Sahai: "Actually not eight but 14 persons were released and the reason for their release was that they were neither named in the FIR nor there was any suspicion against them. However, on account of their release, Hindus in general and Jats in particular, were antagonised and the message which spread amongst them was that the administration and the government were pro-Muslim and the former was acting under the influence of the latter."

While on one hand, these eight (or 14) persons were let off, the report goes on to add how the administration decided to insert the names of the family members of Sachin and Gaurav in the FIR lodged by Shahnawaz's kin.

"I am of the view that insertion of the names, in the FIR relating to Shahnawaz's murder, of persons other than Sachin and Gaurav, definitely antagonised the Hindu community (specially Jats) and sent the message that the administration and the government was pro-Muslim", observed Justice Sahai, who, however, chose to not hold anyone responsible for that.

Letting SP government off the hook?

From the averments made before the commission and the conclusions drawn by Justice Sahai, it was amply evident that actions ordered by the government were not without a slant and objective handling of the situation at the very outset on August 27, 2013 could have perhaps averted the situation from taking such an ugly turn as it did.

The opposition sees the one-man commission's  tendency to shield the Samajwadi Party government all along in its report as a direct consequence of Justice Sahai's proximity to the party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav. They cite Justice Sahai's post-retirement appointments as good enough argument in support of their contention.

Sure enough, Justice Sahai was appointed chairman of UP State Law Commission in 2002 and continued until 2007. Though he remained out of favour in the Mayawati regime that followed between 2007 and 2012, he was promptly made member of UP State Human Rights Commission, soon after the SP government returned under Akhilesh Yadav in 2012. And just as his term was coming to a close, he was entrusted with the inquiry into Muzaffarnagar riots.

Suggestions made by Justice Sahai Commission 

1.   The police should be free from political interference.

2.   Police must improve credibility in the eyes of the common men and women, who, today associate it with corruption, arbitrariness (picking and choosing criminal elements against whom action should be taken) practising torture, using third degree methods against people whom it takes in custody, not lodging FIRs unless its palms are greased and threatening peace-loving people.

3.   In communally sensitive districts, competent officers (especially those who have been earlier posted in such districts) should be posted with a minimum tenure of two years.

4.  On police:

i)  Police must ensure curb on rumour mongering.       

ii) Need to improve local intelligence units of the police. Need for enhancing their numerical strength as well as funding besides use of modern technology.           

iii) Need for the police to take preventive measures.

iv) Police should ensure ban on entry of undesirable element in disturbed areas.

v)  Effective patrolling in areas with mixed population of Hindus and Muslims.         

vi) Immediate declaration of curfew after a riot breaks out.

vii) Beat constables and local informers ("mukhbir") to be given more importance.

5.   Formation of joint peace committees of Hindus and Muslims in all districts.

6.   A committee comprising heavy weights, to be chaired by home minister of state, representatives of all major political parties, home ministry officials, eminent educationists and sociologists.

7.   Citizen committees with both responsible citizens from both Hindu and Muslim communities.

8.   Setting up of a research institute to study causes of riots and to suggest means to prevent their recurrence.

9.   Review of curriculum of educational institutions with focus on imparting secular values.

10. Strict conditions for withdrawal of cases against those responsible for rioting.

11. To enhance punishment for rioting punishable under section 153-A of IPC.

Last updated: March 09, 2016 | 16:45
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