Opposition on UP Demolitions: Akhilesh Absent, Congress Busy With Rahul Gandhi
Besides lip-service, the Opposition has done nothing in response to the Prayagraj demolition. What explains this?
The Quint DAILY
For impactful stories you just can’t miss
The protests against Bharatiya Janata Party's Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal's insulting remarks against Prophet Muhammad were followed by a spree of demolitions in different cities in Uttar Pradesh.
Though the administration maintains that the civic authorities carried out the demolitions on their own, it is true that a number of Muslims involved in the protest were targeted. The most prominent among these was the house belonging to the mother of student activist Afreen Fatima in Prayagraj.
Her father, Javed Mohammed – who is a leader of the Welfare Party of India and the Jamaat-e-Islami – has been arrested as being one of the main people behind last Friday's protest in Prayagraj.
Their house was demolished barely two days after the protest. The family alleges that this has been done in violation of the norms.
No doubt, several questions can be raised on the manner in which the demolition was carried out and you can read a detailed list of alleged discrepancies here.
However, what's been conspicuous is the Opposition's lack of on-ground support to the protesters.
Akhilesh Yadav, Other Samajwadi Party Leaders Missing in Action
Akhilesh Yadav, whose Samajwadi Party (SP) secured the lion's share of Muslim votes during the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections earlier this year, has largely been missing in action around the demolitions.
Yadav did tweet on the evening of the demolitions:
Translation: "What kind of justice is that the person whose statement disturbed peace in the country and sparked a backlash abroad, is being provided security but peaceful protesters are being punished through the bulldozer without any inquiry? Neither our culture nor our religion, nor our Constitution permits this".
A little later, he tweeted a couplet:
Translation: "Go and put the scales of justice in the museum,
and declare that the rulers have taken law in their own hands".
A few other leaders from the SP, including the party-supported Independent Rajya Sabha MP Kapil Sibal, also tweeted on the matter.
However, the party, which has a very strong cadre strength in Uttar Pradesh, was hardly present on the ground during the demolitions.
Though party leaders aren't speaking on the record on the demolitions and even many spokespersons are avoiding TV debates on the issue, The Quint spoke to a few leaders and cadres within the SP to understand the party's reluctance to take up the issue.
"A big reason is fear. Many SP leaders have themselves been targeted by the Yogi government's bulldozer policy. Party workers, especially Muslims and Dalits, would think twice before protesting on the ground," said a Muslim SP functionary from West UP.
"This is a very vindictive government. People from other states won't understand this. If we protest against one demolition, they will initiate a hundred more demolitions. And no questions will be asked," said a party MLA.
However, there is an acknowledgement in the SP that there may be disappointment among Muslims regarding the party's approach.
"Obviously, Muslims have seen the period in which Mulayam Singh Yadav would reach an area where Muslims were under threat of communal violence and that gesture itself would help them feel secure. But a lot has changed since then. The BJP has created such an atmosphere that even a small gesture towards minorities gets used for mobilising the majority," said the functionary.
This pattern was visible during the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests as well. UP witnessed a very harsh crackdown on protesters, with several being killed in Firozabad, Sambhal, and Bijnor districts. The SP didn't protest on the ground following these killings but the party is known to have given a few lakhs as compensation to the victims.
On being asked if Muslims feel that the SP has taken "their vote for granted" as "they have no choice," the MLA said, "No one can take anyone's vote for granted beyond a point. Yes Muslims voted for SP in a big way in the Assembly elections. But there may come a time when the community may feel that no one is able to protect them any way so let's try a different option."
However, it isn't just Muslims, even when SP's own non-Muslim leaders like Roshan Lal Verma were targeted through demolitions, the party did nothing except issue condemnations and send a delegation.
Congress Prioritises Rahul Gandhi
The Congress didn't get much support from Muslims during the Assembly elections earlier this year. But the community used to be a strong base for the party before the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute and it also got strong support from Muslims in UP in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. So ideally, the party would like to revive its base in the community.
However, like the SP, the Congress' reaction to the demolitions was also largely restricted to tweets from leaders like Shashi Tharoor and a few others.
The party's main focus presently seems to be the Enforcement Directorate's questioning of Rahul Gandhi, which enters its fourth day on Friday, 17 June. The party has mobilised its leaders and cadres on this issue. The Delhi Police's overzealous clampdown on the protests has further drawn focus towards it.
The Congress' mobilisation around this issue may be justified in itself, especially with fears in its ranks that Rahul Gandhi could be arrested on Friday.
But no doubt, the Congress' absence on the demolition issue will raise questions in UP even if people have lesser expectations from it that the SP.
Mayawati Tweets, Owaisi Speaks Out But Cadres Missing on the Ground
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati also tweeted, condemning the demolition:
"By targeting a particular community, bulldozer, demolition and other malicious aggressive actions, crushing the protest and creating an atmosphere of fear and terror, this is unfair and unjust. The court must take cognisance of the faulty action of targeting the entire family by demolishing the house."
However, like the SP and Congress, the Opposition was restricted to Twitter.
All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi spoke out against the demolition in Prayagraj during his rally in Kutch. He said, "The UP chief minister has become the chief justice of Allahabad High Court. He'll convict anyone and demolish their houses."
He also accused the BJP government of having double standards and said, "Ajay Mishra's son mowed down and killed farmers, his house was never demolished. You don't demolish Ajay's house, but you demolish Fatima's. Is that your justice?"
However, like the SP, BSP, and Congress, AIMIM cadres, too, weren't seen protesting the demolitions. In that sense, this is in line with the shortcomings AIMIM is facing in UP – that too much is dependent on Owaisi with the party having inadequate presence on the ground.
The Possible Reasons Behind the Opposition's On-Ground Absence
What explains the absence of Opposition cadres during demolitions in UP, unlike say Shaheen Bagh where the Congress, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), AIMIM leaders were seen on the ground?
One explanation would be what the SP leaders suggested – that people are afraid of reprisal from a vindictive UP administration.
The other reason could be a lack of political will on the part of these parties.
The third reason is a lack of accountability of local leaders and cadres of these parties. Shaheen Bagh in that sense may be an exception as the sense of local community, degree of politicisation is high and as a result, local leaders are forced to compete with each other to raise people's issues.
Having said this, the Opposition will continue to face questions on its absence from the UP demolitions. Even within the Opposition, other parties can't be treated with the same yardstick as the SP, which is the main Opposition in the state. The SP's silence has made it easier for the regime to bulldoze any dissent, both literally and figuratively.
(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)
Read and Breaking News at the Quint, browse for more from news and politics
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.