“If Yogi Adityanath was here, the bulldozers would have already crushed the property of Muslims,” said Yogesh Garg, whose store in the town of Karauli in Rajasthan was set on fire during the April 2 communal violence.
That day, a bicycle rally to celebrate the Hindu New Year had gone wrong. As the rally entered Atwara, a Muslim-majority enclave in the town of Karauli, revelers played and danced to incendiary songs, which spoke of slashing Muslims. In response, slabs of stone were reportedly dropped on the gathering from Muslim homes. As things got worse, a large number of shops were set on fire and at least 35 people were injured.
While an uneasy calm has been restored, the April 2 rally may have left long political shadows in Congress-run Rajasthan, which heads to the polls next year. Increasingly, Karauli became a battleground between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The administration has foiled several attempts by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Bharatiya Janata Party and various other Hindutva outfits to hold more rallies in the district. On April 13, he prevented Tejasvi Surya, national leader of the BJP Yuva Morcha, and 250 others from entering the district for a “nyaya yatra”, or justice rally.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has accused the BJP of trying to create a community-laden atmosphere in the state. “That’s why they go to Karauli and do deceptive things, so the tension remains,” he said. He added that the state government has ordered the administration to take strict action against anyone who tries to disturb the peace.
In Karauli district, Hindus have become increasingly restive, voicing grievances at the state government’s handling of the riots, accusing it of appeasing Muslims. Many predict that the events of April 2 will consolidate Hindu support for the BJP. But this is complicated by the social realities of Rajasthan, where caste divisions are almost as pronounced as those of religion.
“Gehlot saab seat is missing”
Some Hindus who suffered losses in the riots feel the Congress government has turned a blind eye to them.
“You tell me, is that right?” asked Ramesh Chand Gupta, whose grocery store was set on fire. “Not only were we attacked with large [stone] slabs in the procession first, not only were our stores vandalized and looted for no good reason, but now people don’t even accept our reality anymore.
Their grievances are not limited to the government. Many Hindu traders also feel that the media has been biased in reporting their losses. “Even now, some local newspapers haven’t even published a single story about us,” said Suresh Garg, 60.
Scroll.in met several Hindu traders who claimed to have suffered damages worth Rs 15 lakh, which they said the district administration was reluctant to acknowledge. All complained that the first information reports from Muslim traders were recorded within two days of the violence while their FIRs were not recorded until around 8 or 9 April.
“Why make us run so much?” asked Hemant Agarwal, 35. “When we go to the collector, they send us to the SP [superintendent of police]when we go to the SP, they send us to the collector.
Former Karauli District Collector Shailendra Singh Shekhawat, who was transferred after the riots, said the district administration had sent compensation claims of Rs 2.25 crore to the state government. Shekhawat said the amount was to be split between seven Hindu traders and 73 Muslims. Many Hindu traders claimed that the administration simply did not count their losses. On the ground, however, it was difficult to determine whether the number of damaged Hindu properties was significantly higher than what the administration had recorded.
Nevertheless, these complaints resulted in anger against the state government. “Gehlot saab seat is gone,” Garg said, as he predicted Hindus would unite behind a BJP candidate.
The riots left behind a polarized environment seething with hatred against the minority community. This ties in with the belief that a BJP government would have punished Muslims for their alleged wrongdoings. Take Rajesh Garg, 38, a small businessman who suffered no losses in the riots, although many of his clients did. A BJP government, he said, would have hit Muslims so hard “that their cheeks would have swelled four inches”.
“Pressure to leave”
Muslims, meanwhile, fear the consequences of the riot. Some Muslim houses are now padlocked. In others, only women remain. It would appear that at least a few Muslim men, fearing police intervention, are on the run.
Among those awaiting compensation is Abdul Hamid, 46, who owned a shop on Madan Mohan Temple Road in Karauli. Like many other Muslim traders on this road, he is owned by the Maniyaar community and sells lac bracelets. “We mainly deal with Hindus. If I were having a wedding today, 80% of the people would be Hindus,” he said, bursting into tears.
The April 2 riots disrupted many of these daily social and economic exchanges. A taxi service owner said he fired two Muslim drivers after the violence, and a hotel manager said Hindus who rented shops from Muslims on National Road 44 asked them to leave.
Irfan Khan is worried about his own business prospects – the men’s clothing store he owned was burned down – as well as those of his uncle, who was renting his store from a Hindu landlord. “There is pressure to leave,” Khan said.
Like Haji Jaleel, 44, whose shop was also burned on April 2, they fear that if the BJP comes to power, daily violence will force them to leave their homes in Karauli. However, Jaleel hoped things would improve over time.
Hamid, too, bases his hope on the social ties that have endured despite the violence. “For me, the person who ransacked and burned down my store is not a Hindu,” he said. “The person who rented his store to me and told my son he would help rebuild the store is a Hindu.”
The men at the rally, he said, made it their “task to spread poison”. “That’s not what a Hindu does,” Hamid said.
Nonetheless, local BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh units may be trying to turn the polarization left by the riot into political gains.
“The incident shows that the government of Rajasthan, not only in Karauli but in the whole state, is failing in maintaining public order,” said Brijal Dikoliya, Karauli district chief of the BJP. He pointed out that Gehlot held the interior minister’s portfolio and that voters noted that the chief minister was “not capable of managing the state”.
Before his plans were foiled by the district administration, Keshav Singh Naruka, 65, deputy secretary of Vidya Bharti of Rajasthan, the education wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, had planned several other rallies. Despite the hitch in his plans, Naruka predicted that things would soon change in Rajasthan.
This may not be a wild conclusion to draw – after all, Rajasthan has a strong history of anti-incumbency, with Congress and the BJP alternating in government.
However, the political calculations in Rajasthan are complex. According to local estimates, the two main electoral blocs in the assembly constituency of Karauli are Meenas and Gujjars. The two communities have often been at loggerheads in Rajasthan. While the Meenas have Scheduled Tribal status, the Gujjars have a long-standing demand for the same reservations, which they say has helped Meenas advance.
Congress District Chairman Haji Rukhsar said Lakhan Singh Meena, who won the 2018 election on a Bahujan Samaj party ticket before moving to Congress, won the support of Muslims, Meenas and voters in the listed caste. Rukhsar hoped these alliances would blur the stark divisions between Hindus and Muslims that the BJP hoped to take advantage of.
Many Muslims in Karauli are still grateful to Lakhan Singh Meena for ensuring that a Muslim councillor, Rashida Khatoon, was elected president of the municipality, even though the community represents only 22.5% of the population of the city. city.
Sanju Genghat, who is the district head of the Akhil Bharatiya Anusuchit Jati Yuvjan Samaj, which works to spread education and political awareness among Dalit communities, said the allegations of religious polarization were overblown. “These BJP people are just spreading rumours, the reality is always different,” Genghat, 34, said.
He had been a member of the BJP’s Yuva Morcha, or youth wing, but left it five years ago. Genghat claims this was after he suffered caste discrimination in the morcha. “The others had a problem with me and my friends having water from a particular tank. I left the party soon after,” he said.
Genghat said caste discrimination was endemic in Karauli. “When a child is born with us, the first thing he [upper-caste Hindus in the BJP] do is say stay away from this mehtar [low caste individual]“, he said.
While Karauli voters recognize caste differences, many upper-caste Hindus say the riot has blurred these divisions. “The fire that was lit – it was not lit in our stores but in our hearts,” said Rajesh Garg. “When it comes to being a Hindu, the importance of caste comes to an end.”