What happened in the eastern Uttar Pradesh town was not a conflict but violence unleashed by MP Yogi Adityanath and his henchmen
If one tries to understand the developments in Gorakhpur and its neighbouring areas of eastern Uttar Pradesh (Poorvanchal) from January 26 to 31, 2007 through the eyes of the print and electronic media, one moves further away from the truth. It is a sordid story of a highly communalised media conjuring up a riot, collaborating with BJP MP Yogi Adityanath, a Bal Thackeray clone and heir to the Gorakhnath Peeth operating from the Gorakhnath temple. Adityanath is a BJP MP for ‘technical’ reasons and cares a damn for the niceties of party discipline because he knows that the party cannot dissociate itself from him. Though he mocked the party by holding a Vishwa Hindu Maha Sammelan at the same time as the BJP’s National Council meet in Lucknow, the party did not mind. It had earlier swallowed the defeat of its candidate in the Assembly election by Adityanath’s candidate. One should know that he is a Thakur; a Thakur heads the BJP now and the Samajwadi Party is also being run by a powerful Thakur. The Thakur spread across partylines ensures that Adityanath is allowed to have his own way in his fiefdom, i.e. Poorvanchal. He makes it a point to give calls for a Gorakhpur bandh whenever the chief minister visits the town.
Poorvanchal mein rahan hai to Yogi-Yogi kahan hoga (You have to chant Yogi’s name if you want to live in Poorvanchal) is a slogan popularised by his gang. But how true is the claim of his hold on Gorakhpur, leave alone Poorvanchal? He has lost all local elections held recently in and around Gorakhpur, and could only manage to lure the relatively respected Samajwadi Party (SP) member and mayoral candidate Anju Chaudhary to his side.
Apparently, Chaudhary fell a victim to the myth spun around him during the last 15 years. Adityanath has been called the Yuvak Hindu Samrat, Narendra Modi of Poorvanchal, the premier of the Hindu Rashtra of Poorvanchal. He has used the wealth of the Gorakhnath Temple to sustain his army of lumpen youth. Adityanath has followed the rss methodology in creating organisations with different names that he calls cultural bodies. Among these are Hindu Yuva Vahini, Sri Ram Shakti Prakoshtha, Gorakhnath Purvanchal Vikas Manch, Hindu Mahasabha and Vishwa Hindu Mahasangh. Adityanath himself is the main functionary of these unregistered outfits. He also controls much of the functioning of the Bajrang Dal and the Hindu Jagran Manch. He holds his durbar in his temple that is attended by local police and officials.
Adityanath has perfected his technique of manufacturing riots. An insignificant incident like a Hindu’s clothes getting stained accidentally by the paan spat by a Muslim is turned into an act of humiliation of Hindus. A rape in which the victim is dalit and the perpetrator Muslim is used to substantiate the allegation that “Muslims rape our women” and all hell is let loose on the Muslims. The last 11 years are witness to several such acts. No criminal case has been registered against him except once in 1999 when a case was registered against him in Maharajganj after the killing of the official gunman accompanying sp leader Talat Aziz. The police and administration have remained mute spectators with the political leadership looking the other way. All this has given him an air of invincibility. Muslims have been given to understand that neither the Bahujan Samaj Party, nor the sp is willing to rein him in. Perhaps the SP is seeking to counter Mayawati’s Brahmin card with its own Thakur card by indulging him. The Congress is nowhere and also lacks a will to take him on. All this leaves the Muslims here with no option but to resign themselves to their fate.
This time, however, his plans went awry. On the night of January 26-27, Pankaj Rai, a history-sheeter, and his gang chased a dance party performing at a marriage. They mingled with a Muharram procession and the processionists thought that they were being attacked. Suddenly a gunshot was heard, which the then administration thinks was Rai’s act. As panic set in, more people — both Hindu and Muslim — were beaten up and a young man, Raj Kumar Agrahari, was badly injured and hospitalised. The District Magistrate (DM) was informed at 1.30am and he told officials to brief Adityanath that he should not visit the site. Initially, the MP agreed. But as Agrahari died, Adityanath declared that now he would go to the spot and seek revenge for the killing of a Hindu by Muslims. He reached the spot with his lumpen who destroyed a mazhar. He declared his resolve to ensure justice for the Hindus, swords were flashed before the dm and senior police officers. Short of policemen, the administration tried to persuade the MP to vacate the place but he didn’t budge.
When the now-determined dm took the dagger away from a goon, they charged towards him and demanded the dagger back. Upon this, the dm ordered the police to disperse them by force. Suddenly the MP found himself facing a situation that was not in the script. Afraid that the lathis might find Adityanath, his well-wishers cried out for compromise. The MP demanded that curfew be imposed and withdrew. Though the dm didn’t think a curfew was required as the violence was designed to disrupt Muharram, he agreed to the MP’s demand.
Later, however, Adityanath announced a torchlight procession. The administration succeeded in preventing it from moving but it was captured on camera and a non-procession was turned into one by the willing media. Emboldened, he announced a Shraddhanjali Sabha the next day at the town’s busiest crossroad. By this time, the dm had resolved not to allow it any further as the police reinforcements were in. He issued orders that no meeting was to be allowed and that any violator was to be arrested. With unambiguous orders, the police moved. Adityanath dismissed the warning as a hollow threat but landed in an unforeseen situation. He and his ‘followers’ were taken to the police line. Soon, a police van arrived and the detained people were asked to board the jail-bound vehicle. Adityanath jumped into the bus, declaring that he cannot leave his followers. To their surprise, the bus started moving and they realised that they were in trouble. The three-km journey to the jail took more than 90 minutes as his goons pelted stones and every other means to block the van but to no avail. For the first time in his life, Adityanath is jailed under Section 151A of the crpc only to find later that he has also been booked under Sections 146, 147, 279, 506 of the Indian Penal Code for leading the attack on the mazhar. On the strength of this fir, Adityanath is remanded to 14-day judicial custody.
On January 29, his followers assembled at Gorakhnath Temple that falls in an area where more than 50 percent of the population is Muslim. They start hrowing stones and burning tyres in the direction of the Muslim locality and on the road. But there is no retaliation from the other side.
Dr Hari Om, the then dm in-charge, wishes to put it on record that not a single incident of slogan-shouting or stone-pelting was resorted to by Muslims. He wants the world to know that although much grieved by the decision to impose curfew as it hampered Muharram, the Muslims, led by the venerable Miyan saheb, assured the administration of all cooperation as peace was more important and kept their word. Meanwhile, the media kept screaming that Gorakhpur was burning, the walls of the Gorakhnath Temple were demolished. Which, of course, was a naked lie.
And all of a sudden, the dm was informed that he’s been shunted along with the superintendent of police. As he moved away, Rashid, a Muslim youth, was killed. It is a matter of discussion in Gorakhpur that it was done by a Hindu Yuva Vahini man who injured himself to use it as a cover. Newspapers flashed the pictures of the Yuva Vahini man’s bandaged leg, obliterating the killing of Rashid altogether.
So where was the riot, as imagined by the interested media, asks Hari Om. From January 27 to 29, Adityanath and his goons laid siege to Gorakhpur without any provocation from Muslims. A mazhar was gutted, masjids and shops of Muslims destroyed, government properties damaged by the gangs, stone pelting on the police by his goons: do these make a perfect riot? A riot involves some degree of involvement of two warring groups. How is it that areas with substantial Muslim population did not experience any untoward incident barring the planned attacks of Adityanath’s gangs? Why did cm Mulayam Singh Yadav remove the officers who jailed the BJP MP who was hell-bent on destroying peace? Why did the officers’ successors go straight to Adityanath for forgiveness? Why did the media fail to report the facts as facts?
Hari Om has one regret — that he had assured Muslims that by giving a reprieve of 7-8 hours in the curfew on January 29, he would ensure that the Muharram tradition was not disturbed. However, the moment he was removed, Rashid was killed to celebrate it as Adityanath’s victory and the curfew was extended. Tazias remained where they were. The Muslims kept their word, he did not. This young officer has just one question for his country: can a community feel at home where it is prevented from even mourning by all kinds of machination? Can a community celebrate its existence in a country where law-keepers look over their shoulders when it is attacked? Such is the sad story of Uttar Pradesh, the truth of one of the many riots that were not.
- First published in Tehelka.com, Feb 17, 2007