BY SAEED NAQVI
Home Minister P. Chidambaram would do well to take a helicopter ride to Gopalgarh, in Rajasthan, close to both Haryana and UP, where on September 14, the police, in collusion with local Gujjars, fired and killed nine Muslims (of the Meo community) in a mosque. Muslim anger spilling over into UP would be disastrous for the Congress 2012 campaign.
The post mortem report, conducted in Sawai Man Singh hospital, Jaipur, has confirmed three deaths by “bullets” and three were burnt alive. The remaining three died of injuries from sharp weapons. Officially, seven are missing and twenty-three injured. The unofficial figure of the injured is in excess of fifty.
Of the nineteen policemen at Gopalgarh police station, nine were Gujjars. In the entire Meo belt, beginning from Nuh on the Delhi-Alwar highway, and spreading across Rajasthan, Haryana and UP, there is a large presence of Gujjars in the police force and none of Meo Muslims, much the larger community.
The number of dead does not tell the story of Meo helplessness which becomes apparent at every turn on a two and a half hour drive from New Delhi past Nuh, Pahari and Gopalgarh. The logistics being so convenient for all the channels headquartered in New Delhi, the blackout of the story is inexplicable. Salman Rushdie once made an observation about European (media too) attitude towards the Bosnian carnage: “You reverse the religious affiliations of those brutalized and NATO would have moved in immediately.” Put it down to my cowardice that I hesitate to make that point about our media’s attitude to Gopalgarh. But it is tragic that, except for the Indian Express, I saw no other media in an area known for its unique culture and where almost everybody is aching to tell a sad story.
The great historian and author of the History of the People of Hindustan, the late Dr. K.M. Ashraf was a Meo. The Meo community was, until a few years ago, a unique blend of Islamic faith and Hindu culture – rather like Indonesia, where the practice of Islam has no conflictual equation with the local culture which derives from Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Ramzan Chaudhry, a lawyer, remembers his grandmother wearing the Rajput “Lehnga” and organizing Govardhan Puja without prejudice to namaz each day.
Successive administrations treated Meos with neglect. This gave an opening to the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Tablighi-Jamaat to step in, “refine” the faith and dilute the colourful culture.
Three kms from Gopalgarh is the large Meel ka Madrasa, where 2,000 boys and girls live in a series of gigantic courtyards ringed by verandahs and tidy rooms like major universities anywhere. “What job will you get once you pass out from the Madrasa?” I ask 15 year old Jamal.
“A moulvi” (priest) he responds with pride. A moulvi in the kind of Mosque where the police and Gujjars opened fire?
It is uncharitable and wrong to link Madrasas with militancy. But what is frightening is this large turnover of unemployable “moulvis”.
Even though the Meos are much the largest population in the area, Gujjars are more self assured after their recent publicized agitation for reservations. They also feel more muscular because of the support they have from the police.
The scene of the violence is a set of three properties – a mosque, two acre enclosure for special Eid prayers and a few acres of disputed land which the Muslims use as their graveyard. On this some Gujjars have encroached.
It is at this point that communal politics gets mixed up with a land dispute. On September 13 Gujjars beats up the moulvi of the mosque precisely to raise tensions. Gopalgarh is tense. On September 14, RSS, VHP and Gujjar leaders mob the Superintendent of Police and Collector and forcibly obtain orders for the police to fire on Meos seeking shelter in the mosque.
At this stage, politics takes over. Rajasthan’s Congress Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has 96 seats in a House of 200. He makes up the deficit with the help of BSP MLAs from the Meena tribe with whom Meos have “ties of blood” and Gujjars have traditional antipathies. Meos and Meenas have the same sub castes and “gotras”. So, Gehlot suspends the collector and SP and removes all the Gujjars from Gopalgarh police station. He announces a judicial and CBI inquiry plus a compensation of Rs. Five Lakh for relatives of those killed.
Four bodies are quietly buried, after relatives accept five lakh cheques. But Kirorilal Meena, who has emerged as the leader of the Meos, raises the compensation demand to Rs. 25 lakh and a plot of land for a memorial to the dead plus resignation of Rajasthan Home Minister, Shanti Dhariwal who has been tepid on the Gopalgarh tragedy. Gehlot cannot annoy the Meenas, who are the front for Meos, because his survival in Jaipur depends on them. He is helpless on Dhariwal whose hold on the “Hindu” vote is priceless. So he is in a bind.
Like every other group, Meos too have created their tiny dynasties. Zahida Begum, Congress MLA from Kama in Rajasthan, is under pressure from Gehlot to use her influence and end the Gopalgarh story before New Delhi tweaks the Chief Minister’s ears. If she succeeds she will become Minister. Bhupendra Singh Hooda, Haryana Chief Minister, is pressing his Meo MLA Aftab Ahmad to stop Muslim anger from spilling over into his state. Aftab and Zahida are political enemies but are together in limiting the “Gopalgarh-effect” for their own reasons. Zahida’s brother, Fazal may be given an assembly ticket in Haryana if she can join forces with her political enemy Aftab Ahmad to help Hooda. But everyone is at this moment being neutralized by Kirorilal Meena, the most influential leader of the Meos. Congress, which has lost the habit of doing its homework, probably does not know that Kirorilal Meena, the most popular leader of the Muslim Meos was once a BJP MP and has just returned from Ahmedabad after attending Narendra Modi’s sadbhavna fast!
At his instance, the burials may be delayed, the charge sheets against the local administration be more comprehensive. Should tensions linger and travel to UP, Chidambaram will be asked questions. Should he travel to Gopalgarh? If he does not visit, Digvijay Singh may.
(Saeed Naqvi is senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)