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Turning Azamgarh into Muzaffarnagar: whose interest does it serve?

Catch Team | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:49 IST

The incidents

  • On 14 May, a group allegedly engaged in arson and looted Dalit and Yadav houses in Azamgarh\'s Khudadadpur village
  • According to news reports, a local mosque incited the mob to attack the police and other officials

The significance

  • There have been several attempts to create communal tension in Azamgarh in the last one-and-a-half months
  • Azamgarh is Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav\'s parliamentary constituency

More in the story

  • Why is Azamgarh turning into the new Muzaffarnagar?
  • With communal tensions on the boil, which political parties will benefit?

Uttar Pradesh's Azamgarh district is still on the boil following deadly clashes between two communities at Khudadadpur village. The trouble began on the evening of Saturday 14 May, when a group allegedly engaged in arson and looted around 10 houses belonging to Dalits and Yadavs.

The miscreants pelted stones at senior administrative officials and police forces that rushed to the spot. A cellphone belonging to the chief of the Nizamabad police station was also snatched.

Read: Communal violence reported in Uttar Pradesh village; 7 arrested and 200 booked

Dozens of people have been reported injured, including Nizamabad SDM Anil Singh, tehsildar Ratnesh Singh and two police constables.

One of several skirmishes

According to news reports, a local mosque incited the mob to attack the police and other senior officials. The rioters were apparently wielding firearms. City circle officer KK Saroj has been admitted to the hospital with bullet injuries.

"They robbed us of everything. Now, they are threatening to turn this place into Pakistan. We have been asked to run away, leaving behind all our belongings," says Khudadadpur resident Kamla Devi, who was among the victims of the riot.

On 14 May, a group allegedly engaged in arson and looted 10 houses belonging to Dalits & Yadavs

The situation was brought under control by late on Saturday night, after heavy deployment of security forces. SK Bhagat, the IG of Varanasi Zone, reached Khudadadpur the next morning, and assured justice to the victims.

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Yet, the truce proved to be short lived as two groups clashed in the Saraimeer locality on Sunday.

There have been several similar skirmishes in Azamgarh region ever since. The two communities are adopting guerilla tactics to target each other.

The unabated violence on Sunday night has forced the administration to call central paramilitary forces, apart from increasing the deployment of the PAC and police forces in the affected areas.

The latest media reports suggest internet services have been suspended in Azamgarh until 18 May, to prevent rumour mongering.

No ordinary riot

The gravity of the prevailing situation in Azamgarh cannot be over stressed. There have been several attempts to foment communal tensions in the last one-and-a-half months. Azamgarh is also the constituency of Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh.

The seeds of the current unrest were sown during the time of Holi. A dispute between the two communities over the sprinkling of colours had led to rioting in the Faridabad village at that time.

The two groups had pelted stones at each other for over three hours, damaging several police vehicles. There are allegations that the administration hushed up the matter and acted in a biased manner under political pressure.

Like the Muzaffarnagar riots, government apathy only added fuel to the fire instead of dousing it. The two communities confronted each other in various parts of the district following the Holi skirmish. Even the Muslims of Bhormau Rajbhar and Katra Noorpur of Phulpur locality clashed with each other after a few days. A man belonging to the Bhormau Rajbhar Basti lost his life in the violence.

Azamgarh is Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav's parliamentary constituency

However, this was not enough to wake up the local administration. On 22 April, violence broke out in Mubarakpur town, when some people objected to the selling of chaat on a plate with Arabic quotes written on it. Miscreants claimed it was a verse from the holy book, and resorted to arson.

The two communities clashed yet again on 3 May in Razzakpur and Faridabad areas. Then came the mayhem on the night of 14 May.

Bhola Yadav, a victim of Saturday's violence, said: "Our colony was surrounded by around 500-700 people. Soon, the mob started pelting stones and firing in the air. We tried to flee, but they fired on us in a targeted manner. I was shot during the melee. The police was present there, but it did nothing."

Polarisation before elections

The prevailing circumstances have led to all sorts of speculations. Many people are asking why was the situation allowed to go out of hand, in such a VVIP district. Questions are being asked as to whether it is a deliberate ploy in the run-up to next year's Assembly elections.

Any kind of communal polarisation will only benefit the Samajwadi Party and the BJP in eastern UP. Rumours have been doing the rounds for quite some time that the two parties have a tacit understanding in this regard. The spurt in political activities after the recent riots points in the same direction.

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BJP state president Keshav Maurya announced the formation of a six-member 'probe team', which was to visit the area. Neelam Sonkar, the party MP from Lalganj, was stopped by the administration from visiting Khudadadpur village.

Some reports claim hard-line Hindu leader Yogi Adityanath might also visit Azamgarh soon.

Any kind of communal polarisation will only benefit the Samajwadi Party and the BJP in eastern UP

Meanwhile, Samajwadi Party strategists are busy setting their own house in order. Mulayam gave priority to welcoming Beni Prasad Verma back into the party rather than visiting his troubled constituency. He is perhaps aware that the current events in Azamgarh are necessary for his political future. Over a dozen communal incidents in his parliamentary area make this amply clear.

The district administration, on its part, is facing allegations of partisan action, like before. Only the other community is at the receiving end now.

As Haji Misfeek, a resident of Daudpur, states: "The police has acted arbitrarily. Otherwise, the situation would have been better. My son Muzammil was sitting with his friend Raees when the convoy of the DM passed. They took both with them, although they had done nothing."

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 17 May 2016, 7:34 IST