Understanding the Hazaribagh Violence over Shaurya Divas and its Fallout

The rural part of Hazaribagh Lok Sabha, and the subordinated segments of urban parts as well, have generally been showing their electoral inclinations more towards the Left (and non BJP) Parties. Without strong Hindu consolidation, it is often difficult, even impossible, for the BJP to win elections here. The incumbent MP, from Hazaribagh, Jayant Sinha feels that he really just can’t win without such a polarization.

Even as chilling details about the lynching of the police inspector in Bulandshahr reportedly by the majoritarian reactionaries on December 4, 2018, are unfolding in layer after layer and the state response to the violence hardly suggests/assures any befitting action against the chief accused, many more events of destruction of the republic to the shreds are coming out from various parts of India including some of India’s historic university campuses.

In Hazaribagh, on December 6, 2018, anti-Muslim violence erupted. A procession led by Hindutvawaadis,celebrating Shaurya Divas was taken through the city. It made its way across the town for the whole day. Late in the afternoon, the procession reached Bhagat Singh Chowk and insisted on entering into the Muslim localities including towards the Jama Masjid. When the procession was not allowed to enter these localities, the participants in the procession, reportedly, resorted to violence, arson, loot, setting motor bikes and shops on fire. All this in the presence[H1]  of the ! This chowk and the adjacent petrol pump has historically often been hotspot for the flashpoint of majoritarian violence. Fear and tension has now spread to other communally sensitive cities of Jharkhand, such as Jamshedpur and Giridih.

Shaurya Divas is an annual demonstration of triumphalism outraging the Constitutional framework and the rule of law.It was on December 6, 1992 that the Babri Masjid of Ayodhya was demolished by a mob of majoritarian reactionaries led by BJP stalwarts. The legitimisation of this criminal act through a ‘ritual’ can be gauged from the fact that a premier institute responsible for training the bureaucracy housed a raucous celebration of the act. The Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy of Administration in Mussoorie, which trains the probationers joining the highest bureaucracy in India, was the locale for this “celebration”, as documented by writer Praful Bidwai, who reported about it in his “A hothouse of communalism”, (Frontline, August 12, 1994[H2] ).

This year, the ‘celebration’ reached JNU, a prestigious central university. A pompous ‘rath yatra’ type procession asserting the right to build a Ram Temple exactly on the site of the demolished Babri Masjid was taken out in the campus on December 6, 2018.
In November 2018, the VHP had a public meeting in BHU, insisting on building Ram Temple in Ayodhya exactly on the site of the demolished Babri Masjid.

Let it be known that the apex court is particularly seized with the title suit of the land on which the Babri Masjid existed.

The reason I cite the instances of the prestigious and highly funded, historic universities, is to make the readers understand how hate-filled majoritarianism is seeping through the enlightened segments of Indian society today, as well.
Hazaribagh is represented in Lok Sabha by Jayant Sinha, an alumnus of Harvard University. The parliamentarian is in the Union Cabinet of ministers as well. He has succeeded his father, Yashwant Sinha, who was formerly  in the elite Indian Administrative Services, was Union Finance Minister in Vajpayee’s cabinet.

A few months ago, Jayant Sinha had been hauled over the coals for garlanding the eight people reportedly belonging to saffron organizations, and who were convicted by a lower court for having lynched a Muslim. Even the New York Timeswas compelled to carry a story on this act (legitimising of a hate crime) of Jayant Sinha[H3] .

It is important to understand why these otherwise suave politicians (the father and the son) resort to whipping up communal polarization?
Hazaribagh has a sizeable proportion of Muslims (estimated to be almost 21-25%). For long it also elected CPI leaders (in 1991 and 2004). The rural part of Hazaribagh Lok Sabha, and the subordinated segments of urban parts as well, have generally been showing their electoral inclinations more towards the Left (and non BJP) Parties. Without strong Hindu consolidation, it is often difficult, even impossible, for the BJP to win elections here. The incumbent MP, from Hazaribagh, Jayant Sinha feels that he really just can’t win without such a polarization.
Both in 1989 and 1996, the BJP won only when the election was preceded by communal violence and polarization.  In 1998, 1999 and 2009, Yashwant won this seat on BJP ticket. Of these three elections, he won two (1998 and 2009), only after polarization.

On April 4, 2017, Yashwant (now showing a moderate face) and his supporters tried to force his way through a Muslim inhabited area of Mahudi, a village in Badkagaon of the district of Hazaribagh. This route was closed for religious processions after a violent clash in 1984. But he made it a mission to get this road opened for Ramnavami processions. He tried to dissuade the police by revealing that he“was a deputy commissioner 50 years ago when these officials were not even born”. He was eventually arrested, but violence did break out in Mahudi. Outraged academic and columnist, Apoorvanand asked Sinha,“We have yet to see any expression from you repenting your role in this violence, even condoling the deaths of those who had to pay for your obstinacy[H4] .

Hazaribagh has a long history of intermittent communal violence, at least since April 1940. Most of these have been because of Ramnavmi procession being forced into Muslim localities.
Of these, the one during 16-20 April 1989 was particularly more horrific.“Communal tensions arose regarding the route that the Hindu Ramnavami procession was to follow; it was prevented by police from passing near the Jama Masjid (mosque). The VHP led an angry demonstration in the town in order to obtain the right to follow the ancient procession route-a demand finally agreed to by the district administration. On April 16, while the procession was taking place, a bomb exploded, sparking off a riot that claimed 19 lives according to official sources (but around 100 by unofficial accounts)”. A revisit to the weeklies, Sunday (May 07–13, 1989) and The Illustrated Weekly (May 21, 1989) reveal it in great details.

It won’t be out of place to mention that during the competitive communalisms of the 1980s, and particularly against the Supreme Court verdict on Shah Bano, in 1986, a fiery orator, Obaidullah Azmi became a frequent visitor in Hazaribagh from where his second wife comes. His inflammatory speeches also contributed to communal polarization, and he rose to ‘prominence’. From 1990 to 2008, he was Rajya Sabha member. 

Earlier, on February 23, 1971, on a trivial issue, violence had broken out in Chatra of Hazaribagh.

Those decades werehowever not the era of corporate owned 24×7  TV news channels, some embedded with the regime, quite a lot of which now indulge in fanning majoritarian hatred against Muslims, with impunity and without shame.  Sadly, such unrepentant anchors seem to have turned into riot producing cadres.

In recent years, Hazaribagh has been continuously sitting on a powder keg. Volcanic eruption of violence, arson and loot, has become endemic. In early November, a 16 year old Muslim boy was lynched over an alleged inter-faith love affair[H5] . In June this year,  tension and resultant clashes erupted over a Facebook postin April 2016. Curfew also had to be imposed in Hazaribagh because of violence during Ramnavmi procession[H6] .

The political scientist, Paul Brass has been proven prescient vis a vis almost every bout of communal violence: communal violence is engineered for political purposes through elite manipulations, which he calls, “Institutionalised Riot System”. He however argues that while the word,“riot” is a word used for spontaneous violence, incidents of communal violence in India, are invariably planned.  

However, this analysis alone does not explain what has been happening, especially northern and eastern parts of India,particularly since 2012-13. Sudha Pai and Sajjan Kumar, in their latest book, Everyday Communalism, offer a more apt and perceptive analysis to help us understand the spate of low scale intermittent violence. Large scale communal violence catch the attention of international media, and the civil rights activists take such instances to the law courts for trial. To avoid these two ‘hazards’, now, the increasingly swelling ranks of communal forces, enjoying impunity, now keep the pot of communal polarization boiling through low scale tensions and polarizations. This helps them sustain and reinforce polarization almost on continuous basis. It is this polarization which increasingly appears to have become the only method by which to win elections. Successful instances of inciting communal polarizations are a CV building exercise for cadres aspiring to rise in political parties wedded to supremacy and majoritarianism.

Secondly, the ingenuous social engineering of the BJP, under the leadership of Narendra Modi-Amit Shah, has meant reaching out to, and winning over, the excluded groups/communities/castes of OBCs and Dalits. This has expanded the social base of this mjoritarianism. Badri Narayan’s book (2009), Fascinating Hindutva: Saffron Politics and Dalit Mobilization, amply demonstrates this unprecedented expansion of Hindutva.

The miserable failures of the incumbent regime in creating employment (that is youth and farm distress) is sought to be glossed over by communal polarization. Ever since the rise of the ilks of Lalu-Mulayam-Mayawati, upper caste hegemony within structures of power have been curtailed. This section threatened with the loss of centuries of benefit and control are resorting to desperate forms of polarizations and are also clinging to the BJP even more strongly and desperately.

The above-mentioned ‘Mandal’ regimes not only left out the non-Yadav communities of the OBCs in their political calculations and the non-Jatav communities of Dalits, they also largely ignored the middle class concerns.

Assured of the unflinching support of Muslims, who give out their votes only in exchange of security of lives and properties in communal violence, and without demanding anything else (shares in power), these regimes remained both arrogant and complacent. This is an added reason why segments of upper castes harbour an even greater hatred against Muslims in recent decades. The rise of Muslim affluence over the past twenty-thirty years particularly because of remittances from Gulf countries adds to the ire. This affluence is manifes through pucca houses, better-built mosques, investments in local retail trading, and rise in political presence in local bodies. A segment of this new generation has also acquired modern and technical education.

A significant number of these neo-rich, upwardly mobile segments are quite demonstrative in certain rituals such as even more pompous processions to celebrate Prophet’s birthday,Eid-e-Milad-un-Nabi. The Salat-o-Salam in reverence of the Prophet on loud-speakers everyday early in the morning is also on the rise. This is wrongly perceived among a section of Hindus as an assertion of Muslim identity against Hindus in public sphere. The fact is, these rituals are an expression of intra-Muslim sub-sectarian (maslaki) competitiveness. Neo-Wahabis and Barelwis are competing with each other. Both are rivalsects within Sunni Muslims.

Hazaribagh is no exception to these trends. Within this town, the Quraishibiradri of Muslims have registered a perceptible economic rise. This has increasingly been becoming an eye-sore to the Hindutva groups.Conversations with Muslims of the town, reveals that in last ten years or so, there have been concerted attempts at breaking the (economic) back of the Quraishi Muslims. Some of the adversely affected Quraishis clearly admit to the fact that the Yashwant Sinha-Jayant Sinha patronise those Hindutva groups who are instrumental in this economic boycott of the Quraishisin the local trading outlets (Betel shop, Meat shop, retail general stores, etc.) by the Hindus. Ghettoization is acute and evident, particularly in the sphere of day-to-day economic activity and exchange. There are also severe and serious complaints of harassment of Muslim youth, by local police on the flimsiest grounds.

Notwithstanding these socio-economic and political contexts, the Hazaribagh violence of December 6, 2018 however was not the result of any ‘provocation’ from Muslims. Reports from the ground amply testify to the fact that these were unilateral majoritarian actions of violence, arson and loot. 

The foregoing narrative should help us all in understanding the desperation of the incumbent BJP regime in general and of the incumbent parliamentarian from Hazaribagh, Jayant Sinha in particular; the ploy of communal polarization is necessary to win the next election.



Related Articles