Even a communal riot cannot stop some politicians from making merry. Nearly 15,000 of the victims of the recent riots in Muzaffarnagar are still sheltered in relief camps. The government seems to have done little to inspire their confidence that it is safe to go back home. But Akhilesh Yadav, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, sees no reason why the plight of these people should stand in the way of a government-sponsored festival of song and dance. So leading lights of Bollywood have been flown into the state to perform at Saifai, the birthplace of Mulayam Singh Yadav, the chief minister’s father. The government claims that the festival is aimed at promoting “local culture” and is dismissive of the political controversy surrounding it. Whether the government has any business to use taxpayers’ money on such spurious promotions of culture is always debatable. But what is particularly shocking is the timing of the festival. It comes at a time when the government’s failure to rehabilitate the riot victims is becoming increasingly evident. In fact, the government’s responses to the situation three months after the riots make one wonder if it is serious about doing justice to the victims.
This show of insensitivity can have dangerous consequences. There are many political and other groups who are only too anxious to exploit the communal sentiments prevailing in the area. If the Lashkar-e-Toiba actually sought to recruit some of the victims to its ranks, then it is a serious issue that needs to be investigated properly. But there is no mistaking the communal overtone in such allegations. Obviously, the state government continues to face a grim challenge to prevent another flare-up. Its actions so far leave a lot to be desired. The government’s indifferent handling of the rehabilitation of the victims is itself a potential source of future conflict. The relief camps are not only uncomfortable shelters, but they are also breeding grounds of fear and hatred. The sooner the government creates the right conditions for these people to return to their homes, the better the chance of preventing future trouble. No matter how much money they get as compensation, the victims would rather go home than stay on in the camps. But they can go home only if they feel that it is safe to do so. The government’s failure to prevent the riots caused the tragedy in the first place; its insensitivity now threatens to leave a bitter trail.