Meerut:Every time a motorcade passes by, Md. Shazid squints his eyes, and takes his hands off the music player he has been trying to fix. “Panchayat elections are on. But the real deal is state elections in 2017. The scale of divisive politics is just frightening,” says the electronic shop owner in Meerut’s Ganeshpur village.
Many across both communities share their feelings. Meerut could be UP’s next flashpoint- mainly over the issue of cow manslaughter-if one goes by the tone of community leaders, apprehensions of ordinary citizens and the response of the administration.
Beef, ban and bloodshed
“Four of the seven MLAs in Meerut are from BJP. The lone MP and the Mayor are also from the saffron party. Emboldened vigilante protectors also pick up alleged cases of love jihad (marrying Hindu women to convert them) and gherao the offices of DM and SSP at the drop of a hat,” says a junior police officer, requesting not to be named. Meerut is barely an hour from Muzaffarnagar, where riots killed 65 and displaced thousands in 2013.
Cow manslaughter is illegal in UP. Beef consumption is not. In fact, cow slaughter is banned at most places except Kerala, and northeastern states. But Sudarshan Chakra ‘Mahraj’-head of Vishva Hindu Parishad’s cow-protection panel in eight West UP districts- claims cows are being manslaughterd in ‘at least 50 places’ in Meerut, a city otherwise known for sports goods and musical instruments production.
India is the world’s top beef (buffalo meat) exporter and fifth biggest consumer. India has 1,700 slaughter houses, mostly in Uttar Pradesh. In the last one year or so, many states, including BJP-ruled Maharashtra, have cracked down on cow manslaughter and beef sale.
“We’re putting pressure on MPs of all parties to bring a strong federal law to ban cow slaughter. What happened in Dadri was natural. More such incidents will happen if the UP government doesn’t wake up,” says ‘Mahraj’ at his office, adorned by photographs of RSS ideologues, on a temple premises.
Also read: Political leaders who made controversial statements on cow slaughter
BJP’s demand for a nationwide ban on cow manslaughter has been a major contentious political issue because the meat industry employs thousands of people, mainly Muslims. Forty percent of Meerut’s 34 lakh population is Muslim.
Those in the trade say the cowprotection rhetoric picked up after a BJP-led government came to power at the Centre in May, 2014. It has become shriller during the ongoing panchayat elections. With 25,000 members in Meerut, VHP claims to have turned over more than 1,000 cow slaughterers to the police in the last one decade-25 tip offs in just one month.
Former BSP minister Haji Yaqub Qureishi, a wealthy meat exporter in Meerut, says VHP is a pack of goons. “They shut Meerut’s only abattoir in the name of pollution and rendered many jobless. Now buffalos are being slaughtered in houses. Is that not pollution?”
RSS says ‘sisters and daughters’ are teased every now and then in Meerut. “Those who seek to save their women face police cases. After the Samajwadi Party came to power in UP, police and administrative officers here say their hands are tied; they cannot do anything. People are angry. Their patience should not be tested,” says an RSS functionary.
Dadri-where a Muslim man was lynched over rumours of beef consumption-has much resonance in Meerut. Next to Shazid’s shop is Subhash Sharma’s grocery store. This (the Samajwadi Party) government is useless. ` 45 lakh to the family of a man who was killed in Dadri? This is inviting riots,” he says.
‘Mahraj’ says India does not seem to be a country for Hindus. “We celebrate our festivals in the shadow of guns. They deliberately slaughter animals in our localities. The family of the Dadri man got `45 lakh. Here people are killed just like that and their families get nothing. India is the only country where Muslims are so unchecked,” he says.
Police seem to be an easy target for both sides. Sitting in his spacious office in Bhagat Singh Market, Qureishi says BJP has the license to kill in UP. “Those accused in murder cases daily sit in SSP’s office; nobody dares to touch them. Any mosque can be shut anytime,” the former minority welfare minister says.
Shazid says the money wouldn’t bring the man lynched in Dadri back. “You kill somebody; I will give `50 lakh. Is this what you’re saying,” a customer at his shop chips in. “Ever since Muzaffarnagar, ‘they catch our boys and thrash them, falsely blaming them for molestation.’ “Every time they catch a truck of cattle, we fear the worst,” says Shazid.
Sanjeev Kumar, an electric shop owner, is suspicious because of ‘an unprecedented focus’ on panchayat elections this time. “Hope the administration is able to keep the sparks from flying.”
Trying her best to claim the support of the Dalit and Muslim community, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) president Mayawati has warned them to be alert about “the design of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to make India a Hindu rashtra.”
“It is a long pending agenda of the RSS and the BJP to convert India into a Hindu Rashtra. Since they are in power, they may try to bring certain amendments in the Constitution to realise their plans. These forces believe in four varnas in Hindu religion in which the Dalits, Muslims and other backward castes would be treated as slaves,” she said on Friday.
Mayawati was addressing a gathering at Ambedkar Memorial on the occasion of ninth death anniversary of Kanshiram, founder of the BSP and her political mentor.
“More deplorable is the fact that the Samajwadi Party is bowing before the Centre to save its tainted leaders. It is the BSP which can prevent the RSS and the BJP from bringing back slavery in the country,” she added.
She questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence over RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s demand to review the reservation policy and form an apolitical committee to reexamine who really needed it.
The BSP supremo claimed that AMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi was sent to UP to divide the Muslim voters. “The BJP has been using him in Bihar. It will use him in UP also to divide the Muslim votes,” she said.
Meerut is barely an hour from Muzaffarnagar, where riots in 2013 killed 65 and displaced thousands.