Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Sahai Commision’s enquiry into Muzzafarnagar communal riots: A Soft Report

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The Justice Vishnu Sahai Commission inquiring into the Muzaffarnagar communal flare up has submitted its findings. But it has stopped short of indicting political parties and the state government
By Navank Shekhar Mishra

Inquiry commissions probing into sensitive issues like communal riots end up skimming the surface. Of course, they methodically go through the process of recording the statements of survivors, witnesses, politicians, police and local authorities. But unfortunately, they stop short of fixing the blame on higher-ups in the government and the political establishment.

The one-man Justice Vishnu Sahai Commission, which inquired into the Muzaffarnagar riots of August-September 2013, has done no better than other commissions of inquiry. Tabled in the Uttar Pradesh assembly on March 6, its 775-page report has invited much flak for failing to indict the guilty.

The commission’s voluminous report has been tabled but not made public. But the information that has trickled into the public domain through press releases and from sources clearly indicate that the commission has given a virtual clean chit to the Akhilesh Yadav government in UP. It has also spared all political parties, including the BJP and its associates.

The riots had resulted in 62 deaths — 42 Muslims and 20 Hindus — and displaced 50,000 people.

According to the commission’s report, the riots resulted from the “polarization” between Hindus and Muslims as a consequence of an incident at Kanwal village in which “a Muslim youth, Shahnawaz, and two Hindu youths, Sachin and Gaurav, were killed”. The incident led to the Jat community calling a mahapanchayat on August 7, 2013, after which clashes broke out. The communal tension was further fuelled by media reports and statements made by leaders of various political parties. However the commission recommends no specific action against any of these netas or sections of the media.

The Sahai Commission examined the role of several officials who may have shirked responsibility or deliberately turned a blind eye to the goings-on in Muzaffarnagar. However, it has named only four; including then principal secretary (home) R M Srivastava. Much of the blame has been placed on the shoulders of inspector Prabal Pratap Singh who was part of the local intelligence unit (LIU). According to the Commission, Singh’s inaccurate intelligence report on crowds that attended the mahapanchayat in Nagla Mandaur on September 7, 2013, was primarily responsible for the administration’s failure to contain the violence.

The LIU had reported that a crowd of 15,000 to 20,000 had attended the mahapanchayat though there were about 50,000 people. Departmental action has now been initiated against Singh and then SSP, Muzaffarnagar, Subhash Chandra Dubey. Other officials have merely been asked to file their explanations.

Among the key reasons for the violence cited by the Commission were the transfers of then district magistrate of Muzaffarnagar, Surendra Singh, and then SSP Manzil Saini just before the riots. To quote: “Their transfers resulted in antagonizing the Hindu community (specially Jats) against the government and this antagonism was a major reason for the riots.” Curiously the man behind the transfers —Akhilesh Yadav, who held the home portfolio at that time — has not been indicted.

As for other politicians, the report has detailed the role of BJP MLA Sangeet Som who uploaded a video on social media — showing some youths being brutally killed in Afghanistan — and falsely linked it to the killing of two Jat men. But the Commission does not recommend more charges against him than those that have already been pressed. Other politicos involved have been spared.

The Commission’s report has come in for much criticism for not fixing any culpability on the state government. The BJP’s UP legislature party leader Suresh Khanna issued this statement: “The inquiry report is a mix of several semi-truths. It is one-sided and does not highlight the real culprits, reasons, causes of provocation and how it spread. The SP government shifted the blame onto BJP and our seven senior leaders were detained without any reason. The real picture would have emerged if the commission had probed the incident thoroughly.”

BSP supremo, Mayawati, was critical of the commission’s report and suggested that it had failed to bring out the real truth of how the BJP and SP had connived during the riots. “The report is an eyewash and has disappointed the justice-loving people, as the lackadaisical attitude of the government has done in the past,” she said.

The Congress felt that the report had been unfair in blaming the UPA government at the center for failing to give advance warnings about the tension building up in Muzaffarnagar. “The report is blaming the center that we didn’t give intelligence (inputs). Our home minister at that time had again and again said we provided information. The UP government cannot run away from its responsibility,” Congress leader Rita Bahuguna Joshi told the press.

The Sahai Commission report has obviously ruffled no feathers. The UP government will be relieved that it has been let off the hook. And the BJP will be pleased that its role in the communal flare-up has not been severely questioned.

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