Modi contesting from Varanasi has got the corporate media to wax eloquent about the spirituality of the holy city, how the Hindus and Muslims are intertwined by economic life – the Benarasi silk saree woven by Muslim weavers and marketed by Hindu traders; how Bismillah Khan, the master Shehnai player represented the syncretic culture and so on. The not so disguised effort is to set Modi as the inheritor and legatee of such a milieu.
Modi: Hindutva Mascot
The reality, is of course, nothing of the sort. There is a darker and more menacing symbolism in Modi contesting from Varanasi apart from fighting a second seat in Gujarat. What is being overlooked or being deliberately swept off the picture, is the history of communalism and the brazen efforts to instigate violence and communal polarisation in Uttar Pradesh in which Varanasi was a main target. One has to go back to 1991, 23 years ago, when the 10th Lok Sabha elections were held. The RSS-BJP combine had launched Advani’s rathyatra in September 1990. In October Advani’s rath was halted and he was arrested in Bihar. Communal violence broke out in major parts of the country in which hundreds died. Uttar Pradesh was the epicenter where the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya was the target of the RSS-VHP led Ram temple movement.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad had called for three sites to be handed over to the Hindus – the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, the Gyanvapi Mosque in Varanasi and the Idgah in Mathura. The Ram temple in Ayodhya, the Shiv temple in Kashi and the Krishna temple in Mathura were to be built in their place.
Varanasi: Target for Communal Violence
Varanasi thus became the prime target of the Hindu communal forces. Varanasi till then had been outside the influence of the communal forces. The secular political forces were dominant in the city and the neighbouring rural areas. However, all this changed after the RSS began its shilapujan yatras as part of the Ramjanmabhoomi movement. In 1989, there was the first communal skirmish in the city. The turning point came in 1991. Just two days before the polling for the Lok Sabha elections communal violence broke out in the Beniabagh area of the city. The riots that followed led to ten people being killed, 126 injured and 117 houses demolished. The Muslim weavers suffered the brunt with Rs. 60 lakh worth of looms being destroyed. There were also horrific instances of violence such as two women being burnt to death along with the looms. This violence dealt a serious blow to the age-old relations between the Muslims and the Hindus living in the city.
In the elections, for the first time the BJP won with its candidate Shirish Chandra Dikshit being elected. S.C. Dikshit was a former Director General of Police of the state and a leading light of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Kalyan Singh became the Chief Minister of the BJP government in June 1991.
The next bout of violence took place in November 1991 with killings of people of one community on November 8 and retaliatory killings on November 13. The police entered the Muslim locality of Madanpura and a popular doctor Dr. Anees was dragged out and beaten badly by the police. He died subsequently in police custody. Dr. Anees was the nephew of Nazar Benarasi, a popular Urdu poet. This brutal police attack on an innocent Muslim doctor highlighted how the police force had got communalized in this period. The ex-DGP and BJP MP SC Dikshit was seen in the police control room directing events during these violence ridden days. This round of violence led to around 50 people being killed.
The communal polarization in the city reached its peak the following year after the Babri Masjid was demolished on December 6, 1992. The VHP and the Bajrang Dal stromtroopers again resorted to violence in the days following this event. Crowds from both sides mobilized with slogans of “Har Har Mahadev” and “Allah o Akhbar” being raised. Varanasi had become a bastion of the Hindutva forces.
In all subsequent Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won from Varanasi, except in 2004, when a Congress candidate was elected. The CPI(M) had fought the elections in Varanasi in 1991, 1996 and 1998 against the BJP in the background of the rising communal polarization. It contested with the support of the Janata Dal in 1991 and later the Samajwadi Party and came second in all the three elections. On all these occasions, the Party got its substantial votes from the rural segments of the constituency, while the city segments gave a big majority to the BJP.
The BJP however was not successful in retaining the dominant position it had acquired in U.P in the 1996 and 1998-99 elections. In the 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha polls the BJP could win only 10 out of the 80 seats in UP. Regaining its hold in Uttar Pradesh became crucial for BJP and its prospective prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. Keeping in mind the 16th Lok Sabha elections the RSS-BJP put in place a long-term plan to create the conditions for communal polarization and systematically set about injecting communal tensions in Uttar Pradesh. Amit Shah a key lieutenant of Modi was made in-charge of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh.
Communal Game-plan in U.P.
After the Samajwadi Party won a spectacular victory in the 2012 February elections and formed the government, the gameplan was set in motion. The RSS and its outfits went all out to conduct a vicious communal campaign branding the Samajwadi Party government as a pro-Muslim government. Campaign against cow slaughter, charges of Muslim youth luring Hindu girls and other provocative issues were systematically raised. In the first communal outbreak of violence in Kosi Kalan, the disturbing pattern of involving people from the rural areas in the attacks on the Muslim minority was seen.
In the two year period since then there have been a number of communal outbreaks of violence across the state in Pratapgarh, Barielly, Saharanpur, Faizabad and other places. In Faizabad, after the violence in the town, simultaneously efforts were made to provoke clashes in other rural centres in the district. Finally came the Muzaffarnagar communal riot in September 2013. The violence in the rural areas, with the Jats attacking Muslims in villages were they have co-existed for centuries revealed the success of the RSS in taking the communal polarization into the villages. Upto then, the communal violence in U.P. had a clear pattern being mainly centered in the urban areas. This round of communal violence between 2011 and 2013 was the first major statewide phenomenon since the horrific communal violence of the early 1990s.
The stage was set for the entry of Narendra Modi. Modi held a rally in Varanasi on December 20, 2013. The backdrop on the stage had a large picture of Lord Shiva. Modi talked of coming from the land of Somnath to Baba Vishwanath. Advani had started his rathyatra from Somnath. “Har Har Modi” was chanted by the BJP workers simulating the religious slogan “Har Har Mahadev”. The Muslim residents of the city were served a chilling reminder of the slogan that was chanted by the Hindutva mobs back in 1992.
The announcement of Narendra Modi as the BJP candidate from Varanasi is part of the script written by the Sangh combine for Uttar Pradesh which has been extended to Bihar too. While there will be no overt display and campaign on the Hindutva agenda given the fact that it had failed to enthuse the people in the past one and a half decades in UP, the same political message is being conveyed covertly and in a subterranean fashion. All the old faces who figured in the aggressive Hindutva campaign for the Ram Temple are back in the fray. Kalyan Singh having rejoined the BJP has put up his son as a candidate, Uma Bharti and Sakshi Maharaj are also contesting the elections from the state. Modi who proudly calls himself a “Hindu nationalist” will be the spearhead in this battle.
The fight is thus not just against Modi in Varanasi, it is a fight against the entire Hindutva forces who are seeking to once again acquire dominance in the biggest state and the country.
The contest in Varanasi will see various parties pitted against Modi. These include the SP, BSP, Congress and Mukhtar Ansari’s Quami Ekta Dal. Ansari is the mafia don who is in jail who contested as the BSP candidate in the last election in 2009 and came second. It is in such a situation that the AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal has also joined the fray. The CPI(M) had announced its candidate a month earlier to contest this seat. If there had been an agreement for a strong common non-Congress secular candidate, the CPI(M) would have considered withdrawing from the fray. In the absence of such a united platform, it is essential that the Left contest the seat and mount an effective political campaign to expose the RSS-BJP game-plan.