UP riots send a very dangerous signal to India

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The crucial state of Uttar Pradesh has been turned into a tinderbox and nobody knows what to do next. The socio-politically diverse state, where poll equations can never be static, has been turned into a laboratory of experimentation where a single big explosion can endanger the entire nation. Intelligence inputs have already cautioned about a spill-over effect of the non-stop rioting in Uttar Pradesh into other parts of the country, including south. Yet, the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP), which won a massive mandate last year, has not succeeded in curbing the elements and restore normalcy.

The bits-and-pieces story make up a deeper tragedy

A number of theories are doing the rounds about the Uttar Pradesh riots. Rapes, molestation, group clashes, objectionable posts on Facebook, beating up of students, shooting of a Dalit and other bits-and-pieces of information are being gathered from the region and it is left to the observers to join the dots and arrive at conclusions about what actually caused the riots.

But the underlying lesson of the latest crisis in Uttar Pradesh is something very alarming. It suggests that India's multicultural social set-up has begun to witness a weakening agent of cohesion. India's heterogeneity is its advantage but a sinister ploy of transforming this advantage into a disadvantage has worked very successfully. Today, one state has caused the authorities to panic, tomorrow, it could be many others, putting the idea of India in a grave danger.

Political power-play endangers social coalition

This brings into focus a crucial issue. Politicians today, in the name of forming alliance with other parties with an eye to capture power, follow a policy of differentiation on the ground. It is an easy way out for the ideologically bankrupt political leaders to amass votes, their political capital, and keep them stored like wealth in a bank (hence the term vote-bank) for future use. The artificial exercise of gaining political power has undermined our natural social coalition.

Is a democracy supposed to create faultlines in the society like we have managed? Through democracy, we have created a system of mutual distrust and hostility. Even the undemocratic India of the ancient and medieval times spoke much about communal harmony under emperors. Now, we started to fail as a democracy?

Politics was a bridge-building exercise once, today it is a divisive strategy

This is in sharp contrast with what most of the traditional politicians did during the formative years of the Indian republic. Coalition wasn't a new term then either and it was known to be a social coalition which was strengthened by leaders with robust ideology and parties with strong organisations. The Congress was the only party which spoke volumes about these two characteristics and hence was the only universal socio-political organisation in the country.

Today, long after the decline of the big ship called the Congress, several parties have engaged themselves in a fierce competition for political prizes and by means of patronising one community at the expense of another, they have essentially delivered blows to the basic foundation of India's diversity. The decline has been facilitated by the political forces' systematic attack on the tools of governance.

Tools of governance have been left to be eroded

In UP, we saw recently the ruling party targetting an IAS officer for taking on the sand mafia but were there any immediate marching orders issued to those administrative officers who were in charge of the riot-hit areas? Some top police officers were removed but one suspects it was more because of the pressure created by the Opposition and media.

It is said that the growing distance between the Jats and Muslims in western UP, where they traditionally had a close social alliance, is responsible for the animosity. The worry is there is not a single leader today who can offer a healing touch to the opposing voices of two communities. Chaudhury Charan Singh was a man who could do it in the past but now it is either Jat Ajit Singh, son of the former, or Mulayam Singh Yadav, the messiah of the Muslims.

Through divisive policies, the politicians have battered India's social fabric

Civilian administration in a shambles

So in the ultimate analysis, we don't have the leadership, organisation or an administrative machinery today to ensure that the social harmony is not disturbed beyond repair. And hence, whenever there is a slightest of provocation, the consequences snowball into a big major crisis. How much better are we becoming in terms of civilian administration, say for example, in comparison with a state like Pakistan? Will we increasingly depend on the Army to maintain our social harmony now despite being the world's largest democracy?

More than the riots in UP, the bigger worry is how much damage we have done to ourselves over the years by following cheap and populist policies to make one group happy at the expense of another? The dangerous consequences of community-based politics (minority and majority) have begun to unfold and we are not even aware about what struck us in Muzaffarnagar.

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