After ‘Land and Love Jehad’, it is ‘Mazar Jehad’ in Uttarakhand ahead of Lok Sabha polls 2024
After ‘Land and Love Jehad’, it is ‘Mazar Jehad’ in Uttarakhand ahead of Lok Sabha polls 2024
Dehradun, April 10
While, the main opposition Congress party in Uttarakhand has been battling with it’s infighting and preparing its’ cadres to write letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi against the vindictive action against its’ leader Rahul Gandhi, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and its’ affiliate Sangh Parivar has already embarked on its time tested strategy of spreading ‘islamophobia’ in the hill state of Uttarakhand ahead of the coming Lok Sabha elections to be held next year.
The ruling BJP had already successfully tested the “Gujarat” formula of creating scare of Muslims amongst the upper caste dominated Hindu majority state of Uttarakhand by reversing the poll trends and winning the 2022 state assembly elections in March 2022.
The catch word this time is “Mazar jehad” which is coined none less than the Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami, the main beneficiary of the party’s poll strategy in the assembly polls last year. The issue of ‘Love Jehad’ is also revoked from time to time.
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami has announced to remove illegal ‘Mazars’ sprouting in the state including in the forest and protected areas of national parks and sanctuaries. Addressing the party workers belonging to the IT cell of the party on Sunday, he said that apart from illegal ‘Mazars’ sprouting in the states action would also be taken against ‘Madrassas’.
In the past one month, stories were being circulated in the plaint media and social media about sprouting of illegal ‘mazars’ and colonies of Muslims in the plain areas of the state. Even some of the national television channels close to the ruling dispensation started running campaigns on “Land Jehad’ through illegal ‘mazars’ in the state.
It was alleged that more than one thousand illegal ‘mazars’ have come up and to malign the Congress party it was charged that these came up during the Congress regime 2004. Interestingly, the main opposition Congress party has completely failed to comprehend and respond to the BJP strategy. The Congress party leaders including those from the state are scared of taking any stand on anything to do with Muslims lest they be painted as pro-Muslims.
Interestingly, despite the denial by Congress, the BJP and ‘Sangh Parivar’ have successfully carried the ‘Islamophobic’ campaign on the social media and on the ground.
None in the main opposition Congress has asked questions about the allegations of illegal ‘Mazars’ and ‘Madarassas’ raised by the Chief Minister Dhami. Nobody from the Congress has asked that since the BJP is ruling the state since March 2017,why illegal ‘mazars’ came up or if they were there before that what action they took in the past six years?
The BJP which had been having its back to the wall on number of issues concerning the state including the heinous murder of Ankita Bhandari by son of a senior RSS functionary, question paper leaks of different recruitment examinations and involvement of BJP leaders in those, rising unemployment and lathi charge on unemployed youth seeking action in the scams, deteriorating health infrastructure and subsidence of land at different places, wants to sidestep these issues by raising frivolous ‘islamophobic’ issues. Interestingly, none in the state due to fear of losing majority community votes is willing to call spade a spade.
Apart from raising the issues of ‘Mazar Jehad’ and ‘Land jehad’, Chief Minister Dhami also announced that the state soon will be the first to introduce Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in the country for which a committee has given recommendations. Before the last state assembly polls, he had promised Uniform Civil Code(UCC), for which he later formed a committee headed by a retired Supreme Court Judge.
It seems that with the same successful strategy, the BJP is bound to repeat the 2019 performance of Lok sabha polls in which it had won all the five seats from the state.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had created a record by coming back to power again in the hill state of Uttarakhand in the state assembly polls of 2022 by breaking the myth of alternately sharing power after every five years with Congress party since the formation of the state. The party had scored a decent victory by winning 47 seats despite the fact that the party had it’s back to the wall due to massive anti-incumbency, non-performance resulting in change of it’s three Chief Ministers within a span of few months in the last year before the state assembly polls.
It was not the performance of the BJP government which did them in but the highly charged communal campaign and appeal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi which worked for the saffron party. The party had to change three chief ministers in the run up to the state assembly elections due to their non-performance. Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami who was billed as one of the most hardworking and developmental oriented Chief minister himself lost his seat. He later won in a bye-election to enter the state assembly.
Apart from the appeal of the BJP’s narrative of robust nationalism in a upper caste Hindu dominant state of Uttarakhand, having a large number of service personnel and ex-servicemen, the highly virulent communal anti-Muslim campaign by the party did help them at the hustings. The campaign which was carried out by the state party leaders, workers and RSS functionaries was finely supported by party big wigs including the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister.
In a state, where nearly each house has a youth serving in the armed forces where bodies of jawans who lay down their lives in J&K, Siachin glacier and North-East are frequent, the issue of robust nationalism espoused by the BJP has a profound appeal.
During the state assembly polls, the BJP had peppered it with dose of threat of Muslims including that of Rohingya Muslims to create ‘fear’ amongst the majority community as has been seen in the state of Gujarat in the past two decades where the party has won elections on communal planks. The Congress party was blamed for appeasing the Muslims and being pro-Muslim during the poll campaign which had struck. The same strategy is again in play.
Interestingly, it was a self goal by Harish Rawat, who three months prior to the state assembly polls said that he was wrongly targetted by his political opponents for favouring a particular community and he did not permitted “Juma” prayers as was alleged. He said that it did cause him to lose the 2017 state assembly elections and dared his opponents to show any such government notification of leave for Muslim employees for ‘Juma’ prayers during ‘Ramzan’ month.The ruling BJP which had been on the defensive due to its’ acts of omission and commissions in the past five years, latched on to the issue with state as well as the national BJP leaders calling him and Congress party as being pro-Muslim.
A vicious campaign has been launched by the ruling BJP and its’ crony media against former Chief Minister and chairman of the Congress Campaign Committee Harish Rawat for allegedly promising a ‘Muslim University’ to a small time Muslim Congress leader.
The word ‘Muslim’ was enough for the BJP and ‘Sangh Parivar” to start their game of communal polarisation and started targeting Harish Rawat and Congress party. Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami charged that the Congress party has been trying to appease the Muslims. The entire BJP took up the issue and blasted the Congress and went after it’s Chief ministerial face Harish Rawat.
A morphed superimposed photo of Harish Rawat showing him as Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, founder of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) was circulated by BJP IT cell which was taken down following notice by Election Commission. As polling date came near, senior BJP party leaders went a step further and charged that it was a Congress conspiracy to encourage “Land jehad” in Uttarakhand hills which is considered as a ‘Devbhoomi’.The entire campaign was very well orchestrated by the BJP on social media having penetration up to the far off villages in the hill.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah during his election rallies had charged that Congress has been trying to settle Rohingya Muslims in the hills which did create a scare amongst the majority community.
During the state assembly 2022 election campaign, apart from his developmental agenda, Prime Minister Modi did sent a highly communal message in a subtle manner. Without naming Muslims, he asked the audience whether they know what the Congress party is going to do to damage their culture, heritage, religion and “Devbhoomi”. He also asked them whether they will stop the Congress from doing so.
The final straw was provided by Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami who promised to implement Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in the state on the lines of Goa.
Earlier, ahead of state assembly polls in September 2021, Uttarakhand government had come up with an order to target the minority community on the issue of alleged “Land jehad”. Although the Uttarakhand state government did not termed it as a measure against “land jihad”, the order targets the Muslim community with an aim to create communal polarisation.
The government order in question said that there has been an “unprecedented” increase in population in some parts of Uttarakhand, by a certain community which has led to migration of the “members of a certain community”.
The state government has ordered the police and administrative officers from all the districts to set up peace committees, track “illegal land deals” and prepare a list of outsiders with criminal antecedents. A government press release said: “Due to unprecedented rise in population in certain areas of the state, the demography of those areas has been majorly affected. And due to this demographic change, members of a certain community are forced to migrate from those areas. Also, there are possibilities that the communal harmony in those areas may be disturbed.”
Interestingly, nothing came out of the report by the District Magistrates and nobody took it up to challenge the BJP narrative after the polls.
It all had started after a BJP leader with close ties to RSS, Ajendra Ajay, wrote to the Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami in July 2021 claiming that the Muslims in the state have started what he called “land jihad”. In his letter, he alleged that Muslims are not only purchasing land in bulk, but are building their places of worship and urged the CM to look into the matter.
Since the BJP came to power in the state after the Assembly elections in 2017, there had been nearly a dozen incidents where members of the minority community were targeted by RSS, BJP and other right-wing groups. Recently, in July 2021, following the Id-ul-Zuha prayers by migrant Muslim labourers at an under construction site in Badrinath, right-wing groups had demanded action. Rumours were spread on social media that the prayers took place at the Badrinath temples to fan communal tension in the region. As a number of media outlets ran a campaign to put the onus of the COVID-19 spread on Tablighi Jamaat members, Mahendra Bhatt, a BJP legislator then and Uttarakhand BJP chief now had advised Hindus to avoid barber shops and beauty parlours owned by the minority community members.
In April 2018, six shops belonging to Muslim shopkeepers were burnt in Augustmuni town of Rudraprayag district of Garhwal. The members of the right-wing groups including those allegedly belonging to Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) took out a procession and targeted these shops following a rumour that claimed a Muslim youth has raped a minor girl. Rudraprayag District Magistrate, in a statement, clarified that it was a mere rumor which was spread on social media. In October 2017, Hindu groups attacked and ransacked Muslim shops and homes from Rishikesh to Haridwar, following a murder at Raiwala. The accused in the murder case were Muslims
On September 8, 2017, two Muslim boys from Kirtinagar town in Tehri Garhwal were caught roaming with two girls belonging to the majority community in Dehradun by the police. The police promptly reported the matter to Kirtinagar, where members of the right-wing groups vandalised shops belonging to the Muslim boys. The boys were sent to jail.
In July 2017, right-wing members attacked Muslims’ shops in Satpuli town of the Pauri Garhwal district after an “offensive” Facebook post purportedly made by a Muslim boy. After a man was arrested for allegedly having sex with a cow, there was tension in Satpuli town with ABVP members forrcing a shutdown in the town market.
In July, 2017, Kashmiri traders were targeted by a few right-wing groups in the Hill station of Mussoorie and given an ultimatum to pack up and leave Mussoorie by March 2018. The provocation for this was alleged raising of pro-Pakistan slogans after an India-Pakistan Champions Trophy match. The Kashmiri traders, however, had nothing to do with it.
Apart from the native Garhwali Muslims, who hail from Nandprayag and Tehri Garhwal districts, some Muslims from neighbouring districts of Uttar Pradesh run vegetable stalls, fruit shops, barber shops or other small businesses. The Garhwali native Muslims have been living in the hills for generations. The plain districts of Dehradun, Haridwar and Udham Singh Nagar already have a sizeable Muslim population living in the areas since before the formation of the state Uttarakhand in 2000. The Muslim population adds up to about 10% of the total population in the state and is mainly concentrated in the three districts.
The Uttarakhand state government has failed to give any concrete data on the alleged demographic change cited in the order. It has also failed to specify the areas where such “worrisome” demographic changes have occurred leading to migration of a “certain community”.
On the other hand, the region has witnessed out-migration for many years due to an array of issues such as tough geographical terrain, lack of civic and health facilities, fewer opportunities for education and employment, etc. Former BJP Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat had even set up a Migration Commission to look into the issue and suggest corrective measures. The Commission headed by S S Negi, a retired IFS officer, has submitted its report to the BJP government, but has not mentioned any reason of coercion or forcible migration due to the alleged demographic change cited in the order. Since the order was passed, the district administrations have failed to find any cases of “land jehad” in the state.