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In a state where a Hindu monk in saffron attire is the chief minister, the minority community is terrified, as reports of them being targeted in various parts of Uttar Pradesh have been coming in. Despite the state passing a tough time due to the second wave of COVID-10 and the resultant lockdown, several horrifying incidents of attacks on vulnerable sections, especially Muslims have become a matter of great concern.

In May alone, there have been several instances of Muslims being targeted. In Moradabad, a Muslim meat trader was beaten up by a cow vigilante mob. In Siddharth Nagar, allegedly at the behest of local Bharatiya Janata Party MLA and SDM, a mob thrashed a Muslim journalist; in Azamgarh, the police arrested a Muslim youth for expressing solidarity with the people of Palestine on social media.

In Barabanki, a neighbouring district of the state capital Lucknow, the local administration demolished a century-old mosque, in defiance of a High Court order. A case has also been registered against the caretakers of the mosque. In Unnao, a teenage Muslim boy died, allegedly after police torture.

In defiance of the Allahabad High Court’s order to keep in abeyance any demolition during the pandemic, the local administration pulled down Masjid Ghareeb Nawaz, known as the Tehsil Wali masjid. Not only this, some members of the masjid management committee have also been booked under stringent laws.

According to reports, UP police has been deployed around the demolished mosque and no one is being allowed to enter the premises. Several Muslim villagers are fearful of that the police may incriminate them in false cases.

On May 20, in Azamgarh district of Eastern Uttar Pradesh, the police put a Muslim youth, Yasir Arafat, in lock-up for calling for solidarity with the Palestinian people. Though he got bail within 48 hours of his arrest, Arafat is reportedly in trauma as he did not expect such harsh action from the police on a social media post.

On May 19, Ameen Farooqui, a journalist claiming to be a journalist with a local Hindi television new channel, alleged that he was beaten on the directions of the SDM and the local MLA while he was on duty. He claimed a mob beat him up for his report on alleged discrepancies in the functioning of the SDM during the ongoing COVID curfew in the state.

On May 21, a teenaged vegetable, Faisal Husain of Unnao, died less than an hour after being brutally beaten by the Bangarmau police for violating the lockdown curfew. Faisal’s family of six members have lost their only breadwinner to what they call “police torture”.

On May 24, a Hindu fringe mob, claiming to be members of Gau Raksha Dal (cow vigilantes) beat up a meat seller in Moradabad district in broad daylight. Manoj Thakur, who allegedly led the violent mob, has claimed to be the vice president of the Bhartiya Gau Raksha Vahini.

However, along with the accused, the police has also registered a case against the victim under sections related to ‘mischief by killing an animal’, ‘committing an act likely to spread infection’, and ‘violation of COVID-19 lockdown guidelines’.

These incidents suggest that the Yogi Adityanath government has given a free hand to the police and administration as well has once again emboldened Hindutva elements to target the minority community.

Several Opposition parties have condemned these attacks, alleging that these were “planned” to cow down not only the Muslim community, but also dalits.

“Not only Muslims, there has been news of dalits being targeted in some parts of the state”,  CPI(M) leader Subhashni Ali told NewsClick.

It is crystal clear that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is once again trying to polarise by playing the communal card in Uttar Pradesh ahead of the Assembly polls scheduled to be held in early 2022.

Veteran journalist Sharat Pradhan says: “This is highly condemnable and it is high time something is done by the government to uphold their oft-repeated claim of “not discriminating” with anyone on the basis of caste or creed.”

Several academics based in UP believe that the Right-wing wants to divert the minds of citizens from the government’s failure to deal with the COVID catastrophe. Sociologist Pradeep Sharma commented that this was BJP’s “old-style” of making the atmosphere communally volatile to deflect attention for their failure in governance.

The Muslim community is around 20% of the total population of the state.

As Assembly election near, BJP is once again banking on its core Hindu-Muslim, Masjid-Mandir agenda to polarise voters, but this time people are not likely to easily fall into their trap, Sharma added.

Political observers feel that excessive power in the hands of bureaucrats seems to have given them a free run to do anything they please.  The demolition of Garib Nawaz Masjid would not have been possible without a green signal from the ruling dispensation, they feel.

Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has more faith in bureaucrats than ministers and MLAs of his own party, say political observers. The 11-member team, which the CM had constituted last year for dealing with the pandemic, has no public representative nor any minister or MLA.

Among some of the most controversial acts of the Yogi government in past years are the crackdown on anti-CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) protesters and suspension of SMS and mobile internet services at the height of the protests in December 2019 – January 2020, banning the media from entering Hathras and the midnight cremation of the 20-year-old dalit gang-rape victim by the police. All these act carry bureaucrats stamps, say political observers.

Promulgating of laws like The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion, an ordinance, commonly known as “Love Jihad”, to give a license to Hindutva outfits and police to interfere in the personal lives of citizens are some other such moves by the UP government.

Such attacks on the Muslim community during the pandemic have not only dented the country’s image at the international level, but may also weaken India’s war against virus.

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