Assembly elections

How the Muzaffarnagar polarisation strategy paid off for the BJP (and why it's being used again)

Recent violence in western UP is aimed at splitting the alliance between Dalits and Muslims that brought the Bahujan Samaj Party to power.

Let us state at the outset that the main reason cited to explain the outburst of violence in western Uttar Pradesh in recent weeks is ludicrous. Anyone who has travelled extensively in UP, particularly around its Hindu or Muslim pilgrim towns and cities and in its highway dhabas, has lost by now a few percent of hearing capacity due to the blast of loudspeakers – the said loudspeakers usually blasting to the general indifference of the local population.

What is far more worrying is the potent mix of minority stigmatization and concerns – both legitimate and fantasised – for the safety of women. Minor local incidents have been labelled as communal. This has been backed by baseless rumours aimed at blaming a single community for the threats to women.  This is an extremely perverse way to both stigmatise a minority and polarise social groups.

Political parties have quickly been accused of fuelling and exploiting these incidents in view of the by-elections to 12 assembly seats due on September 12. It is well understood that parties instrumentalise violence, caste-based or religious-based, for political gains. In August 2013, in the run-up to the Lok Sabha election earlier this year, the Bharatiya Janata Party experimented with a strategy to polarise voters in Muzaffarnagar, aiming to break a decade-long political alliance between the Jats and the Muslims. Contrary to the 1990s' religious mobilisations, the aim here was not to build an elusive and fictitious “Hindu vote block” but to create a rift among the alliance that had enabled the inheritors of Charan Singh to dominate this area.

Rich dividends

It isn’t clear who exactly drew sword first in Muzaffarnagar but what is known is that the initial incident was local and politically insignificant. Not that cases of harassment or traffic incidents do not matter but they do not, in normal circumstances, degenerate into collective retribution against the group to which the protagonists of the incident belong. The violence that followed resulted in the deaths of at least 62 people (42 of them Muslim) and forced an estimated 50,000 people to flee from their homes.

By making sure that no member of the local dominant community would vote for Muslim candidates, the BJP actually fragmented the electorate at the right spot, and bagged the benefits in the absence of credible alternatives. The strategy worked in the Lok Sabha elections. That can be seen from that fact that the vote share density of the BJP in Western UP – both urban and rural segments – was as high as in the state’s cities, where the BJP has traditionally been strong.



The strategy worked in other areas as well. The fragmentation of the non-BJP vote was such that the saffron party was able to get more votes in 22 seats, essentially urban, than the total votes received by its three opponents combined. These urban seats usually have a sizeable Muslim population.



It would seem logical therefore that the next step should be to replicate this successful strategy to other areas soon going to the polls. Recent reports have highlighted the fact that a good share (about 10%) of the recent violence in western UP involves Dalits and Muslims, predominantly in areas that are going to by-election polls in September. This is not surprising, since local Dalit-Muslim alliances have recently helped the Bahujan Samaj Party to rise to power.

Generally speaking, the BSP rose by forging alliances between the Dalit voters and candidates carefully selected from the ranks of the local dominant groups. In 2014, the BJP campaign neutralised this strategy, as few members of the local dominant groups were even available to partner with the BSP, or were already aligned with other parties, such as the Yadavs with the Samajwadi Party. Simply put, there were no other groups for the BSP to ally with, all except the Muslims who, despite carefully spun rumours, have not been swayed by the Modi wave.

The question that begs to be answered is what are the state – and the Samajwadi Party which is in power – doing about this violence? Much has been said about the shared responsibilities of the BJP and the SP in the Muzaffarnagar riots – the BJP for having turned a spark into a fire, and the SP for having waited too long before sending the firefighters. But the point is that the SP ultimately did send the firefighters and demonstrated that the outburst of violence was not merely a matter of failing state capacity.

Violence is rife

In the current situation, the first responsibility of the SP is to reverse the general degradation of the law-and-order situation in the state. Seldom has the party in power let such a state of lawlessness and sense of impunity prevail. Physical violence is a feature of daily life in most localities, as a means to solve inter-personal or inter-caste conflicts and as an instrument to preserve the interests of dominant groups and control over the lower groups. This author conducted fieldwork in 11 villages across Baghpat and Meerut districts nine months before the Muzaffarnagar riots and found only two that did not have a recent murder story to tell. The situation cannot improve when the local police are simply not there to register FIRs and when state actors and legislators are themselves complicit in the violence – if not the actual perpetrators.

One possible explanation for this state of affairs is that Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav is not in control of his own party and cannot activate the local cadres to stop or mitigate the violence. In Mayawati’s time, a BSP MP or MLA crossing the yellow line would be sent an invitation to waltz to jail with the Black Cats, under the eyes of the press, invited for the occasion. The BSP could afford to do that as its elected representatives were drawn from local elite groups detached from the local Dalit population who form the bulk of the party’s voters. Party affiliation was not even a prerequisite. These MPs and MLAs were expendable.

This is not the case for the SP, who tends to select its candidates from the same sociological pool of local elites as the BSP, but draws them generally from the local party cadre. The reason is that the local SP leaders and the local elite groups tend to be the same people. The SP is essentially the party of the new elites and its local organizational strength depends from its local representatives. Expelling its members therefore come at a greater cost than for the BSP, since it is usually followed by the breaking up of its local branches.

An uncooperative bureaucracy

Another possible explanation, less common, is that Akhilesh Yadav is finding it difficult to assert his authority over a bureaucracy that has seen a lot of water flowing under the bridges in the derelict state of Uttar Pradesh. Reports suggest that the bureaucrats – notably in the police force – are increasingly less cooperative with a government that seems unresponsive to the ground situation.

There is a third possible explanation, which suggests that the SP has cynically allowed the situation to deteriorate, hoping that it will backfire against the BJP after having hurt the BSP. This argument does not hold water as the same wait-and-see strategy adopted by the SP at the beginning of the Muzaffarnagar riots clearly backfired, a fact it could not but notice.

The amplitude of the current outbursts of violence seems disproportionate for the political gains at stake – a mere 12 assembly seats and not even a chance to defeat the SP’s majority at the Vidhan Sabha. The real objective is the next assembly elections in 2017, which are still far away. But by letting the situation rot and even degenerate, the state government may expose itself to the risk of President’s Rule.

Gilles Verniers is a Ph.D. candidate at Sciences Po, Paris and Assistant Professor of Political Science at Ashoka University, Haryana.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

India’s urban water crisis calls for an integrated approach

We need solutions that address different aspects of the water eco-system and involve the collective participation of citizens and other stake-holders.

According to a UN report, around 1.2 billion people, or almost one fifth of the world’s population, live in areas where water is physically scarce and another 1.6 billion people, or nearly one quarter of the world’s population, face economic water shortage. They lack basic access to water. The criticality of the water situation across the world has in fact given rise to speculations over water wars becoming a distinct possibility in the future. In India the problem is compounded, given the rising population and urbanization. The Asian Development Bank has forecast that by 2030, India will have a water deficit of 50%.

Water challenges in urban India

For urban India, the situation is critical. In 2015, about 377 million Indians lived in urban areas and by 2030, the urban population is expected to rise to 590 million. Already, according to the National Sample Survey, only 47% of urban households have individual water connections and about 40% to 50% of water is reportedly lost in distribution systems due to various reasons. Further, as per the 2011 census, only 32.7% of urban Indian households are connected to a piped sewerage system.

Any comprehensive solution to address the water problem in urban India needs to take into account the specific challenges around water management and distribution:

Pressure on water sources: Rising demand on water means rising pressure on water sources, especially in cities. In a city like Mumbai for example, 3,750 Million Litres per Day (MLD) of water, including water for commercial and industrial use, is available, whereas 4,500 MLD is needed. The primary sources of water for cities like Mumbai are lakes created by dams across rivers near the city. Distributing the available water means providing 386,971 connections to the city’s roughly 13 million residents. When distribution becomes challenging, the workaround is to tap ground water. According to a study by the Centre for Science and Environment, 48% of urban water supply in India comes from ground water. Ground water exploitation for commercial and domestic use in most cities is leading to reduction in ground water level.

Distribution and water loss issues: Distribution challenges, such as water loss due to theft, pilferage, leaky pipes and faulty meter readings, result in unequal and unregulated distribution of water. In New Delhi, for example, water distribution loss was reported to be about 40% as per a study. In Mumbai, where most residents get only 2-5 hours of water supply per day, the non-revenue water loss is about 27% of the overall water supply. This strains the municipal body’s budget and impacts the improvement of distribution infrastructure. Factors such as difficult terrain and legal issues over buildings also affect water supply to many parts. According to a study, only 5% of piped water reaches slum areas in 42 Indian cities, including New Delhi. A 2011 study also found that 95% of households in slum areas in Mumbai’s Kaula Bunder district, in some seasons, use less than the WHO-recommended minimum of 50 litres per capita per day.

Water pollution and contamination: In India, almost 400,000 children die every year of diarrhea, primarily due to contaminated water. According to a 2017 report, 630 million people in the South East Asian countries, including India, use faeces-contaminated drinking water source, becoming susceptible to a range of diseases. Industrial waste is also a major cause for water contamination, particularly antibiotic ingredients released into rivers and soils by pharma companies. A Guardian report talks about pollution from drug companies, particularly those in India and China, resulting in the creation of drug-resistant superbugs. The report cites a study which indicates that by 2050, the total death toll worldwide due to infection by drug resistant bacteria could reach 10 million people.

A holistic approach to tackling water challenges

Addressing these challenges and improving access to clean water for all needs a combination of short-term and medium-term solutions. It also means involving the community and various stakeholders in implementing the solutions. This is the crux of the recommendations put forth by BASF.

The proposed solutions, based on a study of water issues in cities such as Mumbai, take into account different aspects of water management and distribution. Backed by a close understanding of the cost implications, they can make a difference in tackling urban water challenges. These solutions include:

Recycling and harvesting: Raw sewage water which is dumped into oceans damages the coastal eco-system. Instead, this could be used as a cheaper alternative to fresh water for industrial purposes. According to a 2011 World Bank report, 13% of total freshwater withdrawal in India is for industrial use. What’s more, the industrial demand for water is expected to grow at a rate of 4.2% per year till 2025. Much of this demand can be met by recycling and treating sewage water. In Mumbai for example, 3000 MLD of sewage water is released, almost 80% of fresh water availability. This can be purified and utilised for industrial needs. An example of recycled sewage water being used for industrial purpose is the 30 MLD waste water treatment facility at Gandhinagar and Anjar in Gujarat set up by Welspun India Ltd.

Another example is the proposal by Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) to recycle and reclaim sewage water treated at its existing facilities to meet the secondary purposes of both industries and residential complexes. In fact, residential complexes can similarly recycle and re-use their waste water for secondary purposes such as gardening.

Also, alternative rain water harvesting methods such as harvesting rain water from concrete surfaces using porous concrete can be used to supplement roof-top rain water harvesting, to help replenish ground water.

Community initiatives to supplement regular water supply: Initiatives such as community water storage and decentralised treatment facilities, including elevated water towers or reservoirs and water ATMs, based on a realistic understanding of the costs involved, can help support the city’s water distribution. Water towers or elevated reservoirs with onsite filters can also help optimise the space available for water distribution in congested cities. Water ATMs, which are automated water dispensing units that can be accessed with a smart card or an app, can ensure metered supply of safe water.

Testing and purification: With water contamination being a big challenge, the adoption of affordable and reliable multi-household water filter systems which are electricity free and easy to use can help, to some extent, access to safe drinking water at a domestic level. Also, the use of household water testing kits and the installation of water quality sensors on pipes, that send out alerts on water contamination, can create awareness of water contamination and drive suitable preventive steps.

Public awareness and use of technology: Public awareness campaigns, tax incentives for water conservation and the use of technology interfaces can also go a long way in addressing the water problem. For example, measures such as water credits can be introduced with tax benefits as incentives for efficient use and recycling of water. Similarly, government water apps, like that of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, can be used to spread tips on water saving, report leakage or send updates on water quality.

Collaborative approach: Finally, a collaborative approach like the adoption of a public-private partnership model for water projects can help. There are already examples of best practices here. For example, in Netherlands, water companies are incorporated as private companies, with the local and national governments being majority shareholders. Involving citizens through social business models for decentralised water supply, treatment or storage installations like water ATMs, as also the appointment of water guardians who can report on various aspects of water supply and usage can help in efficient water management. Grass-root level organizations could be partnered with for programmes to spread awareness on water safety and conservation.

For BASF, the proposed solutions are an extension of their close engagement with developing water management and water treatment solutions. The products developed specially for waste and drinking water treatment, such as Zetag® ULTRA and Magnafloc® LT, focus on ensuring sustainability, efficiency and cost effectiveness in the water and sludge treatment process.

BASF is also associated with operations of Reliance Industries’ desalination plant at Jamnagar in Gujarat.The thermal plant is designed to deliver up to 170,000 cubic meters of processed water per day. The use of inge® ultrafiltration technologies allows a continuous delivery of pre-filtered water at a consistent high-quality level, while the dosage of the Sokalan® PM 15 I protects the desalination plant from scaling. This combination of BASF’s expertise minimises the energy footprint of the plant and secures water supply independent of the seasonal fluctuations. To know more about BASF’s range of sustainable solutions and innovative chemical products for the water industry, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.