"Children hugging it out sends a positive message because only a lesson in love can keep India together," wrote Samajwadi Party Chief Akhilesh Yadav as he shared a video on X (formerly Twitter) on 26 August.
In the 21-second-long video, the Muslim child who was thrashed by his classmates in a school in Uttar Pradesh's Muzaffarnagar was seen hugging one of them. This 'patch-up' or 'truce' was arrived at during a panchayat held at the boy's village and was mediated by Naresh Tikait, farmer leader and the national President of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU).
For context, in a video that previously went viral, a teacher of Muzaffarnagar's Neha Public School was allegedly seen encouraging Hindu students to slap a Muslim boy.
After massive public and political outrage, the teacher, Tripta Tyagi, was booked under IPC sections 323 (voluntarily causing harm) and 504 (insulting and provoking a person with the intention to breach public peace) on the basis of a complaint filed by the student's family.
Speaking at the panchayat in Khubbapur village where the incident happened, Naresh Tikait, also the head of the Baliyan khap, urged people to maintain peace and communal harmony. "The situation is under control. The teacher did nothing wrong, and in my personal opinion, she should neither face an FIR, nor should her school be de-recognised. People of all communities should live in harmony in this village. For now, we will get the FIR against the teacher withdrawn," he said.
Support Across Party Lines
Interestingly, senior Tikait's initiative received support from politicians across party lines:
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and Union minister Sanjeev Kumar Balyan endorsed his support and said that the incident was being given a communal colour and "responsible, non-political leaders" from the area intervened to broker peace.
SP Chief Akhilesh Yadav, went a step ahead and said that people who helped in reconciling should also get the accused teacher to tie a rakhi to the Muslim student's father. “Those who helped reconcile should also make the teacher tie a Rakhi to the student's father because the root of the problem is not the estrangement between the children but the hatred created by the propaganda in the heart of that teacher,” said Yadav.
Nawazish Alam Khan, a leader of the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and former MLA from Buldhana said that calling a truce was the right thing to do. "The more we condemn the incident, the less it is. The teacher is completely at fault. As responsible citizens, however, our attempts should be to reach a solution and not indulge in political mudslinging. Leaders from our party also attended that panchayat," Khan told The Quint.
This unanimous support may partly be because of the influence of the Hindu Tyagi community in western Uttar Pradesh. As per estimates, the Hindu Tyagis, with a population of over 50 Lakh, influence five Lok Sabha and 15 Assembly seats in UP. Their concentration is highest in Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Bulandshahr, Ghaziabad, Saharanpur, and Moradabad.
Earlier, the influence of the Tyagi community in western UP played out after Shrikant Tyagi was arrested for allegedly assaulting a woman at Noida’s Omaxe Society. As the video of the brawl went viral and the administration took action, Union Minister Balyan came out in support of Shrikant’s family against a portion of their house being bulldozed.
Bhupendra Chaudhary, RLD's National Spokesperson, claimed that the party's support to the farmer unions in brokering a truce in Muzaffarnagar had nothing to do with elections.
"There's a deep communal divide in the society today. Our attempt as a party is to bridge that divide. And it is for this reason that we supported the initiative to broker peace between the two parties in Muzaffarnagar. We have seen in the past...in 2013, how the BJP benefitted from the communal divide in western UP in the wake of the Muzaffarnagar riots. They're trying to engineer something similar again. We won't let that happen," Chaudhary told The Quint.
A Different Strategy in Haryana
The stand taken by BKU in the Muzaffarnagar case is markedly different from its position on the recent communal flare up in Haryana's Nuh district.
On 31 July, clashes erupted in Nuh between the Hindu and the Muslim community in Nuh during a religious procession organised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). The violence also spread to the neighbouring districts of Gurugram, Palwal, and Faridabad.
On 27 August, Rakesh Tikait, while addressing a mahapanchayat at Alwar in Rajasthan said that if the Haryana government gives permission for another similar procession, the farmer groups will hold a tractor rally in response.
"If the Haryana government permits the Brij Mandal Jalabhishek Yatra in Nuh, we will organise a tractor rally. Their strategy is to incite conflicts and govern through division. We should educate our children and encourage them to seek employment instead of involving them in riots. We are all Hindus, but there are two kinds: those operating from Nagpur and those who take pride in being Indians and reject violence," he said.
Tikaits and Jat Politics
The seemingly contradictory approach by the BKU and the Tikaits towards communal incidents in Haryana and Western UP — where the agrarian Jat community, to which the Tikaits belong, plays a significant role — can be attributed to multiple factors.
Mangeram Tyagi, National Vice President of the BKU (Apolitical) faction which parted ways with the BKU after the farmer protests said that the difference in approach in both the regions is the difference in how the two brothers handle situations.
"Naresh is a grassroots leader. His only concern is the cause of the farmers, much like his father (Mahendra Singh Tikait). Rakesh, on the other hand, claims that he is not politically inclined but still has time and again shown that he wants to get involved in politics. It is for this reason that Naresh focused on brokering peace between two parties in Muzaffarnagar whereas Rakesh is playing politics in Haryana. It was over this political ambition that we parted ways with BKU after the farmers agitation," he told The Quint.
A close associate of the BKU faction led by the Tikaits, however, said that the difference in approach is because the situation in Haryana is different from that in West UP. "What's happening in Haryana is different from UP. In Haryana, there is an organised attempt to spark communal violence. This has to be fought strongly," he said.
"In western UP, however, after being sidelined by the BJP after the Muzaffarnagar riots, the Tikaits have now regained control over farmers after the farmers' protest. They don't want the balance between communities to be disturbed. Peace can be maintained only if there is a social balance," he added.