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PM’s choice shocks riot-hit town

- Muzaffarnagar feels appointment of Baliyan will reopen wounds
Vivek Baliyan, the younger brother of riot-accused Sanjeev Baliyan who has been made a minister of state. Picture by Imran Ahmed Siddiqui

Muzaffarnagar, May 26: Several residents of Muzaffarnagar expressed shock after learning that Sanjeev Baliyan, the local MP who is accused of a role in last year’s riots, has become a minister in the Narendra Modi government.

The refrain was that Baliyan had been “rewarded” before the wounds could heal. “It’s terrible that a person charged with inciting violence in which so many people lost their lives has become a minister in the new government. It seems he has been rewarded for this,” said Mohammed Safi.

The 65-year-old had been glued to a small TV set with several others at a relief camp in Basha village, around 22km from Muzaffarnagar town. A hush descended on the group when news channels announced that Baliyan was among the ministers.

A senior police officer said Baliyan was charged with inciting mobs and making provocative speeches in the run-up to the riots in late August and early September last year. Baliyan had taken anticipatory bail from the high court.

Arshad Mohammed, also at the Basha camp, showed a mark on his right leg and said it had been caused by a bullet. “Eight months have passed but the emotional scars run deep. Instead of trying to heal our wounds, the government has chosen to reward those behind the violence. What kind of message does the new government want to send?” he asked.

The 45-year-old fled his home in Qutba, the village worst affected by the riots and home to the Baliyans, with his wife, four children and elderly parents after rioters attacked the hamlet on September 7, killing residents and setting houses on fire.

Overall, 50 people were killed and 50,000 were displaced.

At Qutba village, Baliyan’s younger brother Vivek was meeting jubilant supporters, many of whom distributed laddoos and played drums. Supporters shouted “Jai Shri Ram” and “Har Har Modi” as the swearing-in took place.

“Narendra Modi called my brother at 8.30am today and asked him to rush to Gujarat Bhavan immediately. The unexpected call from the Prime Minister was a pleasant surprise and we realised then what was coming his way,” said Vivek, who teaches agricultural engineering at Meerut College.

Asked whether his brother will try to convince Muslims to return to their homes in Qutba, Vivek said: “He has done it several times but they are not coming. Everything is normal here.”

Vivek was seen holding a revolver in his right hand and two mobile phones in his left. This reporter was allowed to take pictures only after Vivek went back inside his house, left the revolver and returned.

Asked about the weapon, a supporter said: “Bhaiya (Vivek) had just returned from a nearby village where he had gone to meet local party leaders in a jeep. He had to cross two Muslim-populated villages and that’s why he had to take the revolver. There is a lot of distrust in the area and you don’t know when you need it for your personal safety.”

Around 150 Muslim families from some of the affected villages have bought small plots of land at Basha, where they have been living in makeshift tents with their families under the scorching sun while construction of their houses is in full swing.

Arshad bought a small plot after receiving a compensation of Rs 5 lakh from the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi state government.

“We are struggling to rebuild our lives after fleeing from our janambhoomi (birthplace),” Arshad said, as his two small daughters lay on a cot nearby in the camp.

Others suggested the fear hadn’t gone away. “We are very scared and there is always the apprehension of another riot breaking out. It is bound to be there if people like Baliyan enjoy such goodwill in the BJP,” said Noor Hasan, who had to leave his Kankra village during the violence.

“Muslims are resigned to their fate. No government works for their development. Hamein koi ummeed nahin hai kisi sarkaar se. Hamara to sirf ab Khuda hai (We do not have hope from any government. We now have none but God),” Hasan added.

For the first time, Uttar Pradesh — where Muslims account for nearly 19 per cent of the voters — has failed to send even one Muslim MP to the Lok Sabha. The BJP and its allies won 73 of the state’s 80 seats.

“This election, we saw extreme polarisation of Hindu votes. Three riot-accused BJP candidates from our area — Muzaffarnagar, Kairana and Bijnore — won by a huge margin. The BJP won all three seats for the first time since 1998-99,” said Rustam, a retired schoolteacher in nearby Shahpur.

The BJP won all 21 seats in the state where the Muslim population is over 10-12 per cent. These included Moradabad, Muzaffarnagar, Kairana, Baghpat, Saharanpur and Bijnor.

Quoting poet Mirza Ghalib, a local maulvi at Shahpur, Md Subhan, wondered whether the BJP’s election theme anthem “Achchhe din aane wale hain” (Good days are ahead) holds anything for Muslims.

“Hum ko maloom hai jannat ki haqiqat lekin dil ke behlane ko Ghalib yeh khayal achcha hai (We know the reality of Paradise O’ Ghalib, but to keep the heart happy, this idea is good),” Subhan said.