“If Yogi Adityanath were here then bulldozers would have already run over the property of Muslims,” said Yogesh Garg, whose shop in Rajasthan’s Karauli town was set alight during communal violence on April 2.

On that day, a bike rally to celebrate Hindu New Year had turned ugly. As the rally entered Atwara, a Muslim-majority enclave in Karauli town, the revellers had played and danced to inflammatory songs, which spoke of cutting down Muslims. In response, stone slabs were allegedly dropped on the rally from Muslim homes. As matters escalated, 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-ruled Rajasthan, which goes to polls next year. Increasingly, Karauli has become a battleground between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The administration has foiled several attempts by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Bharatiya Janata Party and various other Hindutva outfits to organise more rallies in the district. On April 13, it prevented Tejasvi Surya, national convenor of the BJP Yuva Morcha, and 250 others from entering the district for a “nyaya yatra”, or justice rally.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot accused the BJP of trying to create a communally charged atmosphere in the state. “That is why they go to Karauli and do misleading things, so the tension remains,” he said. He added that the state government had instructed the administration to take strict action against any person who tried to disturb the peace.

In Karauli district, Hindus have grown increasingly restive, voicing grievances against the way the state government handled 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 divides are almost as pronounced as those of religion.

Brijal Dikoliya, Karauli district head of the BJP, claimed the Congress had failed to maintain law and order. Picture credit: Aishwarya S Iyer

‘Gehlot saab’s seat is gone’

Some Hindus who suffered losses during the riots feel the Congress government turned a blind eye to them.

“You tell me, is this right?” demanded Ramesh Chand Gupta, whose grocery store was set on fire. “Not only were we attacked with big [stone] slabs in the procession first, not only were our shops vandalised and looted for no good reason, but now people are not even accepting our reality.”

Their grievances are not restricted to the government. Many Hindu shopkeepers also feel the media was biased in reporting their losses. “Even now, some local papers have not had even one report about us,” said 60-year-old Suresh Garg.

Scroll.in met several Hindu shopkeepers who claimed they had suffered damages worth Rs 15 lakh, which, they alleged the district administration was reluctant to acknowledge. All of them complained that first information reports by Muslim shopkeepers had been registered within two days of the violence while their FIRs were only registered around April 8 or 9.

“Why make us run around so much?” asked 35-year-old Hemant Agarwal. “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 this amount was to be distributed among seven Hindu shopkeepers and 73 Muslim. Many Hindu shopkeepers alleged that the administration had simply not counted their losses. On the ground, however, it was hard to ascertain whether the number of damaged Hindu properties was significantly higher than what the administration had recorded.

Nevertheless, these complaints have culminated in anger against the state government. “Gehlot saab’s seat is gone,” declared Garg, as he predicted that Hindus would unite behind a BJP candidate.

The riots have left behind a polarised environment seething with hate against the minority community. This dovetails into the belief that a BJP government would have punished Muslims for their alleged offences. Take 38-year-old Rajesh Garg, a small-scale businessman who did not suffer losses in the riots, although many of his clients did. A BJP government, he said, would have hit Muslims so much “that their cheeks would swell up by four inches”.

Muslim homes on Atwara Road are locked up and cordoned off. Picture credit: Aishwarya S Iyer

‘Pressure to leave’

Muslims, meanwhile, are fearful of the consequences of the riot. Some Muslim houses are now padlocked. In others, only the women remain. It would appear that least some Muslim men, fearing police action, are on the run.

Among those awaiting compensation is 46-year-old Abdul Hamid, who owned a shop on the route to the Madan Mohan temple in Karauli. Like many other Muslim shopkeepers on that route, he belongs to the Maniyaar community and sells lac bangles. “We mainly deal with Hindus. If I were to organise a wedding today, 80% of the people would be Hindus,” he said, breaking down in tears.

The riots of April 2 disrupted many of these daily social and economic exchanges. A cab service owner said he had sacked two Muslim drivers after the violence, and a hotel manager said that Hindus who had rented out shops to Muslims on National Highway 44 had asked them to vacate.

Irfan Khan worries about his own business prospects – the men’s garment store that he owned was burned down – as well as his uncle’s, who rented his shop space from a Hindu landlord. “There is pressure to leave,” said Khan.

Like 44-year-old Haji Jaleel, whose shop was also burned down on April 2, they fear that if the BJP came to power, everyday violence would force them to leave their homes in Karauli. However, Jaleel hoped things would get better with time.

Hamid, too, pins his hope on social ties that have endured despite the violence. “For me, the person who ransacked and burned my shop is not a Hindu,” he said. “The person who rented his shop out to me and told my son that they would help reconstruct the shop is a Hindu.”

The men in the rally, he said, made it their “job to spread poison”. “That’s not what a Hindu does,” said Hamid.

Congress district president Haji Rukhsar felt alliances between castes and communities would muddle sharp religious divides. Picture credit: Aishwarya S Iyer

Caste calculations

Nevertheless, local units of the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh may be trying to turn the polarisation left by the riot into political gains.

“The incident shows that the Rajasthan government, not just in Karauli but in all of the state, is a failure when it comes to the maintenance of law and order,” said Brijal Dikoliya, Karauli district head of the BJP. He pointed out that Gehlot held the home minister’s portfolio and voters had noticed the chief minister was “not able to handle the state”.

Before his plans were foiled by the district administration, 65-year-old Keshav Singh Naruka, deputy secretary of Rajasthan’s Vidya Bharti, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s education wing, had been planning several more rallies. Despite the hitch in his plans, Naruka predicted that things would soon change in Rajasthan.

This may not be a far-fetched conclusion to draw – after all, Rajasthan has a strong history of anti-incumbency, with the Congress and the BJP alternating in government.

However, political calculations in Rajasthan are complex. According to local estimates, the two major voting blocs in Karauli assembly constituency are Meenas and Gujjars. The two communities have often been at loggerheads with each other in Rajasthan. While Meenas have Scheduled Tribe status, Gujjars have a long-running demand for the same reservations, which they believe have helped Meenas progress.

Congress district president Haji Rukhsar said Lakhan Singh Meena, who had won the 2018 elections on a Bahujan Samaj Party ticket before switching to the Congress, had drawn support from Muslims, Meenas and Scheduled Caste voters. Rukhsar hoped these alliances would muddle the sharp divides between Hindus and Muslims that the BJP hoped to gain from.

Many Muslims in Karauli still feel grateful to Lakhan Singh Meena for ensuring that a Muslim councillor, Rashida Khatoon, was elected as chairperson of the municipal corporation even though the community consitutes only 22.5% of the town’s population.

Sanju Genghat, who is district head of the Akhil Bharatiya Anusuchit Jati Yuvjan Samaj, which works on spreading education and political awareness among Dalit communities, felt the claims of religious polarisation were overstated. “These BJP people only spread rumours, the reality is always different,” 34-year-old Genghat said.

Sanju Genghat felt claims of religious polarisation are overstated. Picture credit: Aishwarya S Iyer

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 faced 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 rampant in Karauli. “When a child is born in our home the first thing they [upper-caste Hindus in the BJP] do is say stay away from this mehtar [low caste individual],” he recounted.

While voters in Karauli acknowledge caste faultlines, many upper-caste Hindus claim the riot had blurred these divisions. “The fire that has been lit – it has not been lit in our shops but in our hearts,” said Rajesh Garg. “When it comes to being a Hindu, the importance of caste ends.”