It was perhaps inevitable that Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath should recommend the withdrawal of 38 cases against 100 accused in the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013. The communal clashes had left at least 60 dead and displaced about 40,000. Last week, Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Sadhvi Prachi was granted bail after having been charged with violating prohibitory orders and giving inflammatory speeches at a fateful mahapanchayat that was followed by the intense riots. However, this week, seven men were convicted for killing two Hindu youths, an incident that allegedly set off the communal violence. The Adityanath government’s latest order is part of a grim pattern where those who incited or participated in communal violence against minorities are let off or politically rewarded by the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The process of rehabilitating those guilty of inciting majoritarian violence in the Muzaffarnagar riots started almost immediately. Two of the accused, Kunwar Bharatendra Singh and Sanjeev Balyan, won the 2014 Lok Sabha elections on Bharatiya Janata party tickets. Balyan was a Union minister till 2017. Three of the other accused, Umesh Malik, Sangeet Som and Suresh Rana, continue to be legislators in the state government.
But then, one of the earliest beneficiaries of this trend was Adityanath himself. Elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time in 1998, he fashioned himself as a protector of Hindus, leading the charge against Muslims whenever he thought they need to be punished. In 2002, he called for an attack on Muslims in Mohan Mundera village in eastern Uttar Pradesh, and 42 homes were burnt to the ground.
In 2007, he violated prohibitory orders in Gorakhpur to give speeches demanding 10 lives for every Hindu murdered. Two people were killed and extensive violence ensued the next day. Ten years later, Adityanath was chief minister, his government ordering that 22-year-old charges against him be dropped.
The Adityanath regime has not stopped at legitimising majoritarian violence. This is the chief minister who boasted about extra-judicial killings by the police under his watch. Between March 2017 and July 2018, about 3,000 encounters were registered, in which at least 78 so-called criminals were gunned down. Most victims of such violence have been Muslims, as well as Dalits and Other Backward Classes.
The breakdown of law and order, the manipulation of justice by those in power may be reminiscent of the “goonda raj” that the Samajwadi Party presided over in the early 2000s. But under Adityanath, something more chilling seems to be at work: the deliberate use of state violence to intimidate and silence those sections of the people not favoured by the state government, particularly minorities.