It was quite a coincidence that as Narendra Modi celebrated his one year in office at a rally on a sweltering May day in Mathura, a holy town for Hindus about 160 km from Delhi, Atali, a village in Haryana's Faridabad district, en route from Delhi and only 50 km from Delhi, was witness to a mob attack and destruction of minority properties. The apparent reason for it was a Babri-Ayodhya type controversy over a religious site.
Relations between the majority and minority communities in the village have been tense for the past few years because of a landdispute: the majority community opposes the construction-to be more precise, renovation--of a mosque in the village because it is very close to a temple.
The Babri-Ayodhya controversy of the 1990s was arguably a turning point in the politics of polarisation in the country-and worse. Overnight, the Congress lost its big 'vote bank' of minorities after the destruction of the mosque at Ayodhya in UP, even when the state was being run by the Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh. Many youth from the minority community reportedly began to veer towards militancy to 'avenge' the humiliation of the destruction of the 'historic' mosque at Ayodhya.
Many in the BJP, now the ruling party at the Centre and many states, see the destruction of the Babrimosque as a 'historic' moment. They think it successfully erased a symbol of Muslim rule from a site believed to be the birth of Lord Ram.
Shades of the Babri-Ayodhya controversy have been visible in Atali in recent years, reversing its history of communal harmony. The Muslim community wants a 'dilapidated' mosque in the village renovated; the majority community in the village (Jats) opposes it because the mosque stands almost next to a temple. The thinking is that a mosque and a temple cannot be built adjacent to each other. At Ayodhya the Hindu right is opposed to a mosque coming up next to a place which is worshipped as the birth place of Lord Rama.
It is gathered from media reports that Atali has six temples but no mosque. Some years ago, the Muslim community was reportedly able to get permission from the sarpanch to construct a mosque at the site now disputed. The Jats went to the court and obtained a stay. That was over five years ago. Recently, the stay was vacated in favour of Muslims of the village, it has been reported. The Jats contest this claim.
While the cloud over the legal position about the dispute in Atali has to be sorted out by the courts, some other developments do not speak well of the way the local police handled the situation and the poor leadership of the ruling party in Haryana.
According to the victims of the carnage, the police showed no urgency in handling the situation and bring calm as nearly 1000 families had to flee homes to seek safety and shelter in nearby villages and, rather surprisingly, a police station. Eleven first information reports (FIRs) were registered after the trouble, eight against persons identified. But no arrest had taken place even a week after the incident. The suspicion was that this was deliberate so as to allow destruction of evidence by the culprits. Some sensed in it a clear bias and prejudice against the minority community by the local police.
At a time when the BJP is said to be keen to remove its old tag of being 'anti-Muslim', it is inexplicable why the state leadership failed to reach out to the victims. According to the riot victims (Muslims), the chief minister of Haryana, Manohar Lal Khattar, found time to visit to towns less than 50 km from Atali on May 27 and May 30 for official functions, but had no time to visit Atali.
The victims have also alleged that apart from the apathy of the police, they have been more pained by the indifference shown towards their fate by the state government and the office of the chief minister. Their petition to the CM's office remained unanswered for more than a week. The local (BJP) Member of Parliament who is also a union minister did visit the victims briefly but was reported to be more keen to press them for a 'compromise' which, in effect, would allow the culprits to go scot free.
Some days before the incident at Atali, a schedule caste community in a village in Sonepat (Haryana) was allegedly attackedby the majority (Jat) community. The victims were asked with tacit blessings of the ruling party to arrive at a 'compromise' with the perpetrators of the crime.
Such incidents put a question mark before the 'conciliatory' statements made by the prime minister during the spate of interviews he gave to celebrate his first year in office. Modi has been declaring that certain 'unfortunate' statements made by members of his party were 'uncalled for'. That does not sound like a strong indictment of the words spoken by his party members-some of them union ministers.
Modi has also said repeatedly that discrimination and violence against any community would not be tolerated. The Constitution, he says, guarantees equal rights to all. One among the plethora of slogans he has aired is 'development for all'. All this can carry some conviction only if some stringent action is seen on the ground whenever those 'unfortunate' words are spoken or communal violence breaks out.
The deterioration in communal relations that resulted from the destruction of the Babri mosque has to be effectively checked. But it does not help when some leading lights of the ruling party categorically declare that a Ram temple will be built on the disputed site at Ayodhya. What is holding it up, they say, is the lack of majority for the ruling party in Parliament.
Such announcements harm the ruling party and will not help its attempts to enlarge its base in the country. The party membership may have crossed nine or ten figures; but those numbers do not guarantee wider support.
-BAZH Special Correspondent