Saharanpur continues to simmer even a month after witnessing violence between the Rajputs and Dalits, both baying for each other's blood.
Caste violence of this scale is not often heard of in Uttar Pradesh (UP), as ordinarily communal riots between Hindus and Muslims dominate the news. Yet, Saharanpur is reeling under the effects of the worst kind of caste riots last month that claimed lives and ended in destruction of property of the underprivileged. The house of a senior police officer was also attacked.
The pattern shows there has not been any visible presence of policing which could deter such unfortunate happenings. It was a free run for rioters.
As is now known to almost all, local BJP MP Lakhanpal Sharma led a procession comprising mostly upper castes inside a Muslim majority village on the occasion of Ambedkar Jayanti amid speculation by the Muslims that it was merely a ploy to woo the community for electoral reasons - a charge denied by the MP. However, anyone even marginally conversant with UP politics will be more than inclined to believe so.
Meanwhile, as tension between the two castes was running high, Dalits vehemently objected (May 5) to a procession planned by the Thakurs to observe the birth anniversary of Maharana Pratap.
The violent clashes that ensued saw one Thakur losing his life and in a clear case of retaliation, several Dalit homes were torched. The Dalits also protested with great ferocity for being refused to install a statue of Dr Ambedkar.
Things got out of hand and came to such a pass that on May 9, a mahapanchayat was planned by the Dalits against police inaction in controlling the tension. The allegation seems genuine as there was a flurry of violent activity without any police action.
The Bhim Sena drew a large crowd at Jantar Mantar. Photo: India Today
It was natural for the non-Thakurs to charge the district administration with inertia because there is a Thakur CM (Yogi Adityanath) at the helm - presuming that the Thakurs got preferential treatment and most of the officers in the police too belong to the upper caste.
The new CM, with all good intentions to improve the sagging image of UP, needs to be cautious in handling the intricacies of this state.
The worst thing that can happen to any aggrieved party is lack of trust in the administration. Charges of being partisan and discriminatory carry some credibility. Governance must be seen to be fair and not taking any sides.
Sadly, in Saharanpur, this was not to be and the developments exceeded limits and led to the emergence of a young leader of Dalits, Chandrashekhar, in-charge of the Bhim Sena.
Young, fiery leaders do surface out of chaos and in movements which are allowed to go adrift and directionless. Taking advantage of the situation, as all "would-be leaders" do, Chandrashekhar mobilised the Dalits and held a fairly big protest demonstration at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on May 21, leaving a profound impact for their cause.
So we see how dexterously this young man shifted his agitation to Delhi, drawing the attention of people at large. This also led to sensitising the Dalits of other regions to start a stir.
Against this backdrop, the Dalit movement has immense potential to transcend boundaries unless reined in as a serious law and order problem.
Saharanpur has a history of caste and communal violence. In 2014, Sikhs and Dalits clashed. The population comprises 53 per cent Hindus and 41 per cent Muslims and the rest are split into other sects/castes. Politicians calculate their votebank accordingly and exploit the voters. This time, the names of national icons like Maharana Pratap and Dr BR Ambedkar were used to the hilt.
It's ironical that the intelligence machinery of the state didn't get a whiff of the problem initially brewing and which snowballed into a major issue which still shows no sign of dying down. What went wrong with the intelligence? It's the most crucial part of the administration.
There is a local intelligence unit and the zone office (ZO), both parts of state intelligence. Their mandate is to garner first-hand real-time intelligence and share with the district administrators for diffusing any upcoming unpleasant situation affecting peace and tranquility.
It looks like their role was abysmally unsatisfactory as the city remained tense. They could have given timely advice to the administration, that if Mayawati paid a visit to the city, things might worsen. But no such warning was given and if at all it was given, the same went unheeded, leading to relapse beyond repair. It's time intelligence apparatus is revamped to prevent further damage.
After Adityanath's advent to power, people had expected things to improve but that is not to be. A series of police officers and district magistrates have been shuffled and reshuffled but all are struggling to pacify Saharanpur.
Politically, in the meantime Dalit leader Chandrashekhar has added much glamour to his persona and is now being gradually seen as a substitute for Mayawati. With Behenji on the wane, it's likely that he will be a natural choice to fill the void.
Also, because Mayawati's erstwhile party honchos stand marginalised after BSP's debacle in the recent state elections. It's observed that Chandrashekhar enjoys tremendous outside support from universities like JNU and Hyderabad, and Saharanpur-linked developments have provided enough fillip to the Dalit movement in this part of the region.
Till such time as the dust settles down in a clearly polarised and tense Saharanpur and a lull prevails, there is need for a central body comprising the central police and intelligence officers to periodically monitor and review happenings in the city, so that things are preempted before they assume ugly proportions.
It's also possible to bring in a neutral, acceptable public figure of repute to use his or her good offices to facilitate a round table meeting of both factions for a conciliatory move to usher in peace and order.