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Sabre Rattling

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While the twin towns of Ayodhya and Faizabad are peaceful on the face of it, a slow, insidious churning is taking place to radicalize certain communities. the signs are all there….

By Scharada Dubey


 

The sheer belligerence and loud posturing of saffron sympathizers has not subsided after the BJP won the general elections. It is not only on social media that its effects are visible—in fact, here the “Modi wave” seems to have somewhat abated—but across towns in UP. The declaration of December 6 as Saffron Day or “Bhagwa Divas” in Faizabad-Ayodhya is one indicator of strident Hinduism. It is another matter that the followers of Yogi Adityanath withdrew the order on Facebook, but the atmosphere was charged nonetheless.

In a departure from previous years, when the VHP had designated December 6 as “Shaurya Divas” or day of bravery and celebrated it in Karsewakpuram on the outskirts of Ayodhya, a group of young saffron activists decided that from now on, December 6 would be “Bhagwa Divas”, a day on which residents would put up saffron flags on their rooftops and temples across Ayodhya and Faizabad.

PRIOR PLANNING

This is a lot more radical than it seems. While the VHP’s “Shaurya Divas” used to hardly create a ripple across the twin towns, confined as it was to sprawling Karsewakpuram, well off the map for the average Ayodhya denizen, this new twist to an old date commemorating the demolition of the Babri Masjid was designed to involve ordinary people and their families.

The official BJP line should be seen against this announcement of “Bhagwa Divas”. The BJP head of Uttar Pradesh, Laxmikant Bajpai, clarified in a report in The Indian Express on December 5, that they would take action against party workers who celebrated “Bhag-wa Divas”. But in the same report, the head of the IT cell of the BJP in Faizabad confessed that they created a special logo for this day and had been spreading messages through Whats-App. More ominously, the BJP MP from the twin towns, Lallu Singh, says that this is the first anniversary after the BJP came to power with such a clear majority, implying that this was bound to change the nature and scale of the celebrations on December 6.

Hindu-majority Ayodhya and Faizabad, with a sizable population of Muslims, are separated by a mere 6 km, making them virtually part of the same city. The atmosphere between the two communities remains largely peaceful. I lived there from 2008 to 2011, and never found the Muharram processions in Faizabad or the pujas and bhandaras in Ayodhya beco-ming flashpoints of conflict. But this changed in 2012, not only for these two cities, but for other smaller settlements in Faizabad district.

AYODHYA, DEC 6 (UNI):- Sants at a 'Saurya Diwas' function  in Ayodhjya on Saturday. UNI PHOTO -   105u

 

An image of “Bhagwa Divas” that was circulated on social media, and the “Shaurya Divas” event that finally replaced the “Bhagwa Divas”

It all started on the evening of October 24, 2012. That’s when violence broke out at Chowk in Faizabad, the center of town, with the burning of many Muslim-owned shops. These included those on the ground floor of a mosque that is a prominent landmark and place of worship in the area. There were simultaneous acts of violence in nearby Bhad-arsa, Rudauli and Bikapur. This led the fact-finding committees to conclude later that there was a design to the violence, and that it was not a spontaneous rioting. One of the investigators was Amaresh Misra, president of the Uttar Pradesh Congress’ Anti-Communal Front. Several tell-tale signs, such as women and children being warned in advance not to come for the Durga Puja procession, which later turned violent; kerosene and petrol being readily available among the processionists which led to 99 shops being burnt in Faizabad and the simultaneous outbreaks of violence in nearby villages, pointed to prior planning.

 

While the VHP’s “Shaurya Divas” hardly created ripples across the twin towns, the plan to organize “Bhagwa Divas” was designed to involve ordinary people.

BOILING CAULDRON

The Faizabad violence was the culmination of a month of simmering discontent because of the theft of temple idols from the ancient Deokali temple on the intervening night of September 21-22, 2012. This temple, believed to be the place where Sri Ram had his mundan or tonsure ceremony, attracts thousands of devotees during Navratri. And to have a Durga Puja festival without the deity was a huge disappointment. BJP’s MP from Gorakhpur, Yogi Adityanath, had visited Faizabad-Ayodhya after the theft and made inflammatory spee-ches, which, while ostensibly asking the ad-ministration to act quickly against the culprits, also implied that the idols were stolen by thie-ves of another faith. Posters to this effect also came up across the twin towns. When the four thieves were finally caught, they were found to be all Hindus, belonging to a gang of antique smugglers. The police intercepted them when they were in the act of exchanging the idols for cash across the Indo-Nepal border.

lLUCKNOW, DEC 6 (UNI):- Members Hindu Yova Vahini celeberating Shaurv Divas on the Babari Maszid demolistion in Lucknow on Saturday.  UNI PHOTO-127U

Hindutva activists marked December 6 by holding rallies and processions, like this one in Lucknow

But this made no difference to the young men of Chowk, who decided to enlist as members of Yogi Adityanath’s followers. After the Faizabad violence, one of the young men, who used to wish me whenever I passed him on the street, was jailed for his role in the arson and looting. His mother was a municipal councilor for the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and it is obvious the son was trying to carve his own political future. It is this group of political wannabes, with whom I am peripherally connected on Facebook, that made the “Bhagwa Divas” announcement.

So, has this affected the situation on the ground? “‘Bhagwa Divas’ has not made any news here, and neither is it likely to affect the local people much,” claims Raghuvar, senior journalist, Dainik Jagran. “They remain focused on their own survival issues and don’t have time for the ideological sparring of political statements. Neither ‘Shaurya Divas’ nor the seminars of the secular brigade have made a difference in the past.”
This is an assessment shared by others, but it is difficult to ignore some recent developments that have affected relations between the two communities. One is a statement by the oldest litigant in the title suit of the disputed territory in Ayodhya, Hashim Ansari. He said he was recusing himself from the case after giving it 65 years of his life, and said his desire was to see Ram Lalla “free” rather than a prisoner who stays under a tent supported by three poles. The statement was welcomed by the head of the Hanuman Garhi temple, Mahant Gyandas, an old friend of Ansari’s. He even put a ceremonial shawl around his shoulders for this pronouncement. Others from the Ayodhya community of sadhus also lavished praise on Ansari, who has threatened to unmask the likes of Azam Khan and Zafaryab Gilani if they cast aspersions on him for betraying the Muslim cause.

ANSARI’S VOLTE-FACE

The Samajwadi Party (SP), suspecting a BJP hand in Ansari’s change of heart, is trying to woo him back. The local MLA, young Tej Narayan Pandey, visited Ansari to gauge his mind. While Muslims in the town have goodwill for Ansari himself, they remain suspicious of the larger game-plan.

The second factor that has influenced the situation on the ground is a procession taken out on December 5 by the Hindu Mahasabha. The processionists carried the saffron pennant and wore red headbands and scarves reminiscent of the Ram movement agitators of the ’90s. This procession was ostensibly tied to the occasion of the Hindu Mahasabha putting up their candidates in the student elections of Saket Degree College, the most important institution between the twin towns. Inciden-tally, in elections there on December 8, the Hindu Mahasabha and the ABVP-backed candidates got wiped out; the winner was from the BSP, while his deputy was from the SP.

 

Many locals question the constant reference to the horrific 1992 event by activists like Teesta Setalvad, calling it counter-productive.

It was undoubtedly meant to be a show of strength on the streets from Naya Ghat to Saket, with slogans such as “Jiska ab tak khoon na khaula, khoon nahin who paani hai… (Whose blood has not boiled thus far, it is not blood, but water)”. On Facebook, the young men may have withdrawn their call for “Bhagwa Divas” in response to Ansari’s statement, but on the ground, they want the local population to feel their presence and their clear, anti-minority intent.

 

AYODHYA, DEC 6 (UNI):- Muslims organisation observing Black Day on the 22nd annniversary of Babari masjid demolition  in Ayodhya on Saturday. UNI PHOTO-104u

Muslim organizations of Ayodhya and Faizabad observed Black Day on December 6

Dateline Ayodhya

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When I had interviewed Asad Ahmad, an SP councilor for my book, Portraits From Ayodhya: Living India’s Contradictions in 2010, he had told me of the attitude of children born after 1992 — if they came in from playing and heard elders discussing the Babri demolition, they promptly ran out again (as they didn’t want to know details of that incident). And that is why the “Bhagwa Divas” has been called—to complete the education of such children and keep them radicalized against the minority community.
Gaurav “Beeru” Tiwari, a young social activist, says: “It is true that the Sangh Parivar wants to target youngsters with their own
version of events, but this could also be a symptom of the competitive currents within the Sangh. The followers of Adityanath may be out to prove that ‘Modi isn’t everything, we count for a lot more’.”

But there is another aspect to the situation. On November 30, a seminar on the constitution and the forces out to attack it was addressed, among others, by Teesta Setalvad. “Such events are also counter-productive,” says Vineet Maurya, a social activist. “They rake up the demolition when most people have gone beyond it and want a dialogue on what can be done for Ayodhya instead.” Deendayal, a young advocate, adds: “The event was less about the constitution and more about the worst episode of our history. Such discourse disappoints.”

Whatever be the case, on the ground in Ayodhya and Faizabad, everyone agrees that there is as yet no evidence of achhe din or vikas, the twin promises which dominated Modi’s politics during the election this year. Only the saber-rattling has returned.

The writer is the author of Portraits from Ayodhya: Living India’s Contradictions and Bol Bam: Approaches to Shiva­

 

 

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