Following the murder of Apple executive Vivek Tiwari by a policeman in Lucknow on Saturday, the Adityanath government is working overtime to contain a possible backlash from Uttar Pradesh’s upper caste Hindus, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s core vote bank. Two days after the incident, the chief minister met Tiwari’s wife and accepted all her demands, including a state job for her and a Special Investigating Team to inquire into the killing. Kalpana Tiwari later said she felt encouraged after meeting Adityanath and her trust in the BJP “increased even more”.
Though her statement helped the BJP wriggle out of an uncomfortable situation, political analysts said the incident is likely to do damage to Adityanath. It may not necessarily benefit his rivals, though. Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, for one, has done himself little good by resorting to “antics”, the analysts pointed out.
On Monday, Akhilesh Yadav posted a tweet demanding Rs 5 crore as compensation for the victim’s family, causing a furore among Muslims who noted how the former chief minister has been silent on police killings of Muslims, particularly of Mustakeem and Naushad, shot dead in Aligarh on September 20. The police had accused the two young men of murdering Roop Singh, a temple priest. But Rihai Manch, an advocacy group that helps Muslims wrongfully arrested in terror cases, claimed that they were killed in a “fake encounter”. The group cited the testimony of Roop Singh’s brother that the slain men were innocent.
Akhilesh Yadav also visited Tiwari’s family, further infuriating some Muslims who accused him of using Tiwari’s death for political gain and betraying the minority community, which has long been his party’s core vote bank.
Others accused Akhilesh Yadav of pursuing “soft Hindutva politics” to counter the BJP. Pointing to his promise to develop a city in the name of the Hindu god Vishnu, and bring back the supposed mortal remains of Prithviraj Chauhan from Afghanistan and build statues to him across the state, they accused the Samajwadi Party chief of trying to do away with his “pro-Muslim image”.
Asif Burney, editor of the Urdu daily Waris e Awadh, recalled Akhilesh Yadav’s handling of the 2013 Muzaffarnagar carnage and the 2015 mob lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri, both when he was chief minister. “Muslims have not forgotten that,” Burney said. “The community is miffed with his political line lately. Strange things are happening in the country right now. People who were talking about temples are visiting mosques and those talking about mosques are visiting temples. Sad part is that even Akhilesh has joined the bandwagon.”
Referring to Tiwari’s killing, he added, “Everyone supports a Brahmin but no party cares for Muslims and Dalits. We have to fight our own battles.”
Still, Burney said, Uttar Pradesh’s Muslims might have little choice but to back the Samajwadi Party. “Right now the priority is to stop the BJP and Muslims know they will have to support SP in order to do that,” he explained. “Though the Congress also remains an option but we will have to see whether they enter into a grand alliance or not.”
Rajeev Yadav, general secretary of Rihai Manch, echoed Burney. He claimed younger Muslims are disillusioned with the Samajwadi Party. “However, they have no political platform to express their anger,” he added. “So, all they can do is use Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp to speak out.”
Akhilesh Yadav’s appeal among Muslims is fading, the activist claimed. “They are extremely critical of him,” Rajeev Yadav pointed out. “Gone are the days when Muslims would flock to his office or residence to get a photo with him. But they are also aware that BJP is a bigger threat that needs to be dealt with first. They realise if Narendra Modi come to power again, this could get even worse.”
Some analysts felt Akhilesh Yadav, despite his flaws, remains the best bet for Muslims. Professor Aftab Ahmed of the Banaras Hindu University argued that the Samajwadi Party remains the only force capable of taking on the BJP. “Muslims are wary of Mayawati because she keeps changing her stance every now and then,” he said, adding that her decision against allying with the Congress in “poll-bound states is a classic example of her ever changing political line”.
Ahmed argued that because public memory is short, people will forget about this incident soon. “This incident alone won’t tarnish Akhilesh Yadav’s image in the community,” he explained. “Muslims still see him as a young modern leader with a vision. As far as his soft Hindutva politics is concerned, I would only like to say, ‘Is hamam main sab nangey hain’.” That everyone is sailing in the same boat.
Mirza Asmer Beg, who teaches political science at Aligarh Muslim University, also argued that one incident won’t change the community’s perception of Akhilesh Yadav. “Politicians are very sensitive and they know how to deal with such situations,” he said. “I am sure during election time, people will repose their faith in him.”
A senior Samajwadi Party leader, who would only speak anonymously, said there is indeed “growing resentment” among Muslims over “certain issues”, but the party is trying to change their perception. “We will do everything to get their trust back,” he said. “And believe me we need them if we want to pose any kind of threat to the BJP.”