The powerful image of the jailor of an Uttar Pradesh prison greeting with folded hands the BJP legislator Sangeet Som who has been arrested on his alleged role in the Muzaffarnagar communal riots, even as two other policemen by his side salute the MLA, says it all. But it has nothing to do with the party of the MLA. For our sarkari karmachari , all MLAs, MPs and the political biradari in general is the all-powerful mai - baap. It would be suicide, they think, to get on the wrong side of them.

Reminds me of a friend’s daughter, who was a second-year student at a prestigious law college in Pune. Her father’s friend’s car was involved in an accident when an inebriated man was at the wheel; it was a hit and run case, the injury was minor and the whole thing was sorted out with the use of money. Disgusted at the way our legal system functions, the young woman quit the course, opted for journalism and now works as a journalist, an area where she’ll be seeing only more examples of how everybody flouts the law.

Political machinations

Anyway, returning to Muzaffarnagar, more details have emerged on the callous manner in which politicians of different parties vitiated the communal atmosphere and fanned the flames through hate speeches, how Muslim leaders of the ruling Samajwadi Party influenced the police not to take action and allow the situation to simmer, because Muslims from western UP have been more faithful to Ajit Singh’s RLD than Mulayam Singh’s SP.

If the peaceful and friendly relations between the Jats and Muslims of western UP have been shattered, perhaps forever, it is thanks to the machinations of our political parties, each of which is always ready to fish in the troubled waters of communal hatred.

As always, whoever might be the initial instigator, it is the minority community or Muslims who have borne the brunt of the backlash. Among the 40-odd dead, the majority are Muslims, and those who have been forced to flee their homes and farmland and are petrified to return are Muslims, too.

Community sans leadership

So if there is a silent rage in the hearts of lakhs of Indian Muslims, the cause is clear enough, if only the community leadership can look at the whole issue without blinkers. But is there an entity called “Muslim leadership”? If the answer is yes, such a leadership has done an incredible job of hiding itself.

Muslims don’t need leaders of the ilk of the Jama Masjid chief Syed Bukhari, or the hundreds of small-town mullahs with warped ideas against any kind of progress or modernity. The type who’d like to put Muslim women behind the burkha and transport them back to the 19th century, and preach that women should neither be educated nor allowed to work outside the home.

In the absence of any credible leadership — the vacuum is naturally filled by dangerous mullahs on the one hand and self-serving politicians on the other — who will explain to the community in simple language and with clear and honest images why the Muzaffarnagar carnage happened? Or how the timing is perfectly aligned to the not-too-far-off 2014 Lok Sabha polls?

Surely there is a pattern in the quick succession of incidents — the post- namaaz sermons, the maha panchayat , and so on. Each event and the venom mouthed at it, only vitiated the atmosphere more and ushered in a fresh wave of violence. The lives lost, livelihoods destroyed and a huge question mark on the future are problems that will have to be faced by ordinary mortals.

The netas , the mullahs, maha panchayat chiefs, et al , are secure in their homes and will soon move on to prey upon the next set of victims in yet another incident. One-odd politician will go to jail, but only to be saluted by jailors to make it clear that they are VIPs on a short sojourn.

Meanwhile it is uncertain that the Muslims will learn any lessons about the danger of allowing themselves to be used as vote banks.

If the SP’s most powerful Muslim face — Azam Khan — deliberately urged the police not to take action, as a TV channel sting operation claimed, Muslims far beyond Muzaffarnagar need to take note of it.

Akhilesh, the fallen hero

But the most disappointing fallout from these incidents and a total collapse of law and order — because at the core of any communal carnage, wherever it happens, is a breakdown of the state administration machinery — is the demolition of another myth or icon.

When the SP swept the UP elections last year, it rode to power on the shoulders of a fresh face, a youth icon called Akhilesh Yadav. The educated, tech-savvy, more sedate and seemingly mature son-of-the-soil Akhilesh stormed to power, sweeping aside the other youth symbol, Rahul Gandhi.

The political discourse in those heady days revolved around how Akhilesh knew the ground realities in UP unlike Rahul who only paid flying visits to the pradesh where his family has pocketboroughs such as Rae Bareli and Amethi.

But a succession of events, particularly the suspension of IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal — who has now been reinstated with “full honours” — and the shocking manner in which his government handled the Muzaffarnagar communal cauldron, have revealed a leader with feet of clay.

It is now clear that Akhilesh was never the real head of the SP government; he was only a front for Papa Mulayam, who has been nurturing ambitions to become prime minister some day. And a pawn in the hands of his powerful uncles, and, of course, Azam Khan.

The BJP, which might be the biggest beneficiary from the fall from grace of the SP in UP, of course wants his government dismissed. But there are inherent dangers in dismissing democratically elected governments.

At the risk of boring repetition, it all boils down to the lack of leadership at the local, State and national levels. If the initial fault lay with some Muslim youth as is stated, effective leadership in the community at the local level could have resolved the issue. Public chastising, and a sincere apology rendered to the aggrieved, might have helped diffuse the tension. In the absence of a sincere and effective polity, it still remains the most effective solution to resolve local problems.

The lesson for the Muslim community, if it is willing to learn it, is to generate leadership within, so that it can resolve its local level problems without waiting for intervention from the likes of Azam Khan and Mulayam Singh. At best such netas will approach their constituency — Muslim, Hindu, or whatever — only during elections. The bigger lesson is to vote strategically, keeping their own interest in mind, and not en masse .

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