Originally Published 2013-01-21 00:00:00 Published on Jan 21, 2013
In a municipality of 55 members in Dhule, 16 are Muslims, affiliated to all the mainstream parties in Mumbai. These councillors are virtual middlemen for state leaders, in whose electoral interest they try to keep the local flock.
What political profit from the Dhule riots?
"Tumne ghar chora, chalo tum

        to mohajir ho gae;

hum yahan haazir rahey

        aur ghair hazir ho gae."

(You left your homes and became mohajirs in Pakistan. We chose to be present here and find ourselves absent)

It was callous of those who tossed up this satirical couplet to relieve the tension in that room in Aurangabad. The elderly gent at the far end took out his handkerchief to wipe his misty eyes. A young man in his late 20s, editor of an Aurangabad Urdu daily, Asian Express, said he could publish it as the song of the Muslims of Dhule. The riot affected town is in North Maharashtra, three hours drive from Aurangabad, where six Muslims youth were shot dead by the Police on January 6. Several were injured.

Muslim youth in riot hit areas, or districts where they have been held by the police for years on suspicion of terror and later found innocent, will obviously be alienated from the rulers. This much is obvious. But what is not obvious to the government, as it was not to me, that youth in their anger will locate an icon, a hero, a declamatory Rambo on a pulpit.

So, from district to district, city to city, video images of none other than Akbaruddin Owaisi, ranting to a thunderous applause are being transmitted on mobile phones.

Among a group in Dhule, I raise my hand. "Please stop this...this is dangerous, inflammatory speech....it can create riots". A dark man with leathery skin regards me sternly. "Where were you or the government when Bal Thackeray was spewing venom, without a break for decades....they didn't have the guts to arrest him". A pause. "And they arrested Akbaruddin because he is a Muslim, a soft target?"

Dhule, not far from Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, was on the fateful day preparing itself to watch the third India-Pakistan cricket match. Briefly, the buildup to the riot is as follows.

A Muslim auto driver has an argument with Kishore Wagh, owner of a restaurant in Madhavpur near Machchi bazaar in the heart of Dhule. The issue is simple: nonpayment of a Rs.30 bill. Wagh hits the driver on his face with a ladle. Bleeding profusely. The injured reaches the Police Chowki, a 100 yards away, where the constables take no note of his injuries.

The driver returns to the scene with a dozen or so youth, only to find that the crowd near the restaurant has also swelled. Stone pelting begins from both sides. The Police Chowki, like a kiosk, is in the middle. The constables have run away. The Muslim mob pulls out the furniture and papers from the Chowki, make a pile on the road and set fire to it. The mobs on both sides have multiplied.

By setting fire to the Chowki, Muslims have already expressed their lack of confidence in police fairness. This is not surprising. In the earlier riots of 2008, the police had shot dead 11 Muslims. Police behavior on this occasion follows the same pattern. Police arrives, facing the Muslim mob. Its back is towards the community it feels more secure with. As the sky is filled with missiles from both sides, the police opens fire. Six Muslims are shot dead. Muslim houses and shops, within a stone's throw from the police formation, are looted and gutted almost under Police supervision. All of this is available on videos in popular circulation. This is a technological advance in these riots. No one can tell lies.

When a State Reserve Police camp is permanently settled in Dhule, why is the police force so late in coming?

In a town with such a large Muslim population, would it not have helped if there were some Muslims in the force?

If you have five Muslims in a force of 300, "the five Muslims are in effect Hindus by another name" says a Hindu social worker. They have to be in a sizeable enough number to be able to influence the majority of the force, he says.

In the standard operating procedure, the police is less trigger happy with the bolt action 303 rifles. The new Self Loading Rifles (SLRs) are meant more to secure the borders than for urban riots. Why did the Police use these?

Muslims here are overwhelmingly, weavers, bangle sellers, paan and beetle nut sellers, petty shopkeepers. Ansaris, Maniyars, Tambolis are common names.

In a municipality of 55 members, 16 are Muslims, affiliated to all the mainstream parties in Mumbai. These councillors are virtual middlemen for state leaders, in whose electoral interest they try to keep the local flock. Sadly for them, the youth has lost faith in these "bought" corporators.

That is the political dimension of these riots. Which of the corporators will deliver votes for Mumbai politicians - the profit of riots? Remember, Corporation, Assembly and Parliament elections are round the corner. Supposing, SP Deepak Deshpande were to reach out to the youth who are the growing power, he has no means of doing so. He can only go to the 16 corporators who alas, have no hold on the youth. The youth, not just in Dhule, is growing angrier by the minute. It is savvy on the social media, transmitting Owaisi's rhetoric to its counterparts elsewhere. "The government, police, electronic media are against us; for them we are ghair hazir, not there," says a young man with a trimmed beard. "We have the Urdu press and the social media." He asks me threateningly "you think these two will always move parallel to each other and not clash with a Big Bang?" This is not the language of a Mullah nor of the politically untrained.

(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

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