With his father by his side, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Akhilesh Yadav, is expected to be anything but amateurish. Yet the spreading horror of the sectarian riots in Muzzaffarnagar could be put down to an inexperienced administration that does not realize it is playing with fire. The sequence of events and the length of time since the reportedly seminal incident in Kawal village suggest that the junior Mr Yadav and his government actually allowed the situation to intensify before stirring themselves. The governorís letter to the Union home ministry says damningly that the government ignored intelligence reports. Now death, destruction, looting, heart-breaking losses, panic-stricken escapes and evacuations have overtaken a widespread area in which the two communities had a tradition of coexisting peacefully. It is a little difficult to believe that a young rulerís penchant for playing with fire alone could be behind one of Indiaís chief nightmares. How did it come to this?
Mr Yadavís rule has undoubtedly been kind to thugs and criminals; incidents of violence and killing, not necessarily sectarian, since June 2012, provide evidence of that. The incident in Kawal was followed by a couple of other hostile encounters in the area, although the conflagration began after the mahapanchayat in September. The build-up was punctuated by excited speeches by political leaders and, reportedly, doctored clips on social media. It was as though pieces were being thrown together in the hopes of a big flare-up. Weakened law and order and a demoralized police force offer the perfect soil for sectarian violence, something that UP had been free of for some years before Mr Yadavís rule. That this should happen so close to the Lok Sabha elections, and that too in this crucial state, cannot be irrelevant.
Among those killed were a journalist and a photographer, which points to the scale of the administrationís loss of control. Yet survivors blame not the other community but politicians, suggesting that the violence has been engineered. This is a sign of the growing maturity of ordinary people, and ironically shows up the alienation of politicians from their voters. The Bahujan Samaj Party is predictably asking for presidentís rule in UP, blaming the Samajwadi Party for weakness and the Bharatiya Janata Party for lighting the fire. Whoever is responsible, this is a dangerous game. The only thing the government can do now is restore peace and give immediate succour to the victims. The poor, as usual, have been the worst affected, losing loved ones, homes, their lifeís savings. Healing these scars will take longer.