The latest Hindutva assault on the Muslims of India is the accusation of ‘land jihad’ – an allegation that there is a concerted underground conspiracy by Muslims to acquire land across the country, particularly in places strongly associated with Hinduism, as a means to “take over the country”. Among those spreading this allegation are leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), far-right Hindu priests and some sections of the mainstream media.
‘Land jihad’ also appears to have become an issue in BJP-led Uttarakhand, to judge by a September 2021 state government order to the police and administrative officers to track “illegal land deals” based on fears around the changing demography of the state.
A statement issued by the Uttarakhand government on September 24 said: “Due to unprecedented rise in population in certain areas of the state, the demography of those areas has been majorly affected. And due to this demographic change, members of a certain community are forced to migrate from those areas. Also, there are possibilities that the communal harmony in those areas may be disturbed.”
The statement added: “A list of all such people should be made who have a criminal background and are living in Uttarakhand. A verification of their profession and domicile status should be done to make their records (sic). The DMs (district magistrates) should also monitor the illegal land dealings in their districts and check whether someone is selling his land out of fear or pressure. If it is found so (sic), then they should stop it and take strict action against those responsible for it.”
When Pushkar Dhami, chief minister of Uttarakhand, addressed the press at the time this statement was released, he assured the residents of the state that no community would be selectively targeted and that the probe would be fair.
But leaders of opposition parties worry that the order issued by the government will be discriminatory.
“No one will object if the government takes appropriate population control measures, but it is a serious matter if such efforts are made to target a community and specific areas for political gain through the misuse of state administration,” Congress leader Harish Rawat, a former chief minister of Uttarakhand, said about the government’s order on September 24.
To verify the authenticity of the Uttarakhand government’s claims, The Wire filed a right to information request to learn whether the Uttarakhand government maintains data of land sales and purchases on the basis of the religions of the sellers and purchasers.
“No,” the government replied.
We asked four more questions:
Q. How does the government of Uttarakhand define the term “Land Jihad”?
Answer: Information unavailable.
Q. How many cases of “Land Jihad”, however defined, have been reported in the past 5 years in Uttarakhand?
Answer: Information unavailable.
Q. Please provide a district wise and year wise data of the cases of “Land Jihad” in the state.
Answer: Information unavailable.
Q. What legal actions have been taken against those involved in “Land Jihad”?
Answer: Information unavailable.
The Uttarakhand government issued the order to check land dealings after Ajendra Ajay, a BJP MLA, wrote a letter to Pushkar Dhami alleging rampant ‘land jihad’ in the state.
In an interview with the news channel Aaj Tak on September 6, Ajay had said: “This has been a demand of some people for a long time and now the issue is gaining momentum.”
Apart from ‘land jihad’, Ajay alleged in the interview that there had been demographic changes in the state as well as an influx of outsiders.
Ajendra Ajay is a member of a committee set up in September by the Uttarakhand government to investigate land grabbing, demographic change and migration and make suggestions on the state’s new land law.
When The Wire asked Ajay if he has any data of specific instances of ‘land jihad’, he said: “No, but we keep coming across such cases on social media.” Ajay also alleged that there were isolated instances of ‘land jihad’ in some districts, such as Sarna, a claim which The Wire could not independently verify.
When The Wire asked Ajay why this issue had been raised right before the assembly elections, he replied, “It’s not that I have raised such an issue for the first time. I also raised objections against the film Kedarnath featuring Sara Ali Khan and Sushant Singh Rajput since it promoted love jihad. The campaign received massive support from all over India and the Uttarakhand government had to ban the movie in the state.”
Ajendra Ajay is not the first right-wing politician to push for a law against ‘land jihad’ in Uttarakhand. For a long time, prominent Hindutva leaders in the state have been pushing for a ban on the sale of property to Muslims and prohibiting the entry of Muslims in the ‘holy cities’ of Uttarakhand.
“If the entry of non-Hindus is not banned, then Hindu priests will take to the streets,” far-right Hindu priest Swami Anandswaroop had said in a video posted on his Facebook account. “Members of the Muslim community are creating a ruckus here, spreading non-vegetarianism, throwing meat and cow meat in the Ganga to defile it (sic). If we don’t take note, then it will become Kashmir. There should be one state for Hindus at least. If a title suit on the lines of Ayodhya would be fought for Uttarakhand, Hindus will win it.”
This video is unavailable on his account at this time, although it has been archived by The Wire.
In another video posted on his social media at around the same time, Anandswaroop had called on his followers to crush the “external and internal Taliban” and “train youth to behead” enemies.
Swami Anandswaroop had hit the headlines in January 2021 when he addressed a ‘Hindu Panchayat’ in Meerut, explaining the rationale of these campaigns in clear terms.
“My argument is that if you [Muslims] want to remain associated with us, you should first stop reading the Quran and stop offering namaz,” he had said at the event.
Then he had offered a ‘solution’ to Hindus: “You decide that you will not buy anything from a Muslim. If you destroy them socially, politically and economically, they will begin converting to Hinduism from Islam.”
When asked if he agreed with the views of Anandswaroop that non-Hindus should be banned from possessing land in Uttarakhand, Ajendra Ajay replied: “I agree with him to a great extent. There are two reasons. First, it’s a question of national security since we are a border state. Second, Uttarakhand is sacred to Hindus and why can’t we have exclusive holy sites for Hindus?”
In July this year, another prominent Hindutva leader, Swami Darshan Bharti, went on a hunger strike, demanding a law against land jihad. Over the previous year, Bharti had met Trivendra Singh, Tirath Singh Rawat and Pushkar Dhami, the former and current BJP chief ministers of the state, to put forward his demand. On September 19, Bharti invited Tirath Singh Rawat to be the chief guest at a function in Pauri Garhwal to commemorate the foundation day of the Akhil Hindu Vahini. There, the participants, including Tirath Singh Rawat, once the chief minister of Uttarakhand and now a member of the Lok Sabha, took an oath to not sell or rent shops, houses and land in Uttarakhand to “extremists”.
A cursory glance at Bharti’s social media accounts reveals who these “extremists” are. On November 25, Bharti had posted a communal tirade against Muslims who had bought land in a village, alleging the collusion of a Muslim official.
Bharti’s post read: “The Vidharmis (heretics) bought land in the village of Chamoli district (sic). Friends, three fundamentalists bought a large land (sic) in the village Khannuri Post Bhim Talla Development Block Dasoli Tehsil Police Station Chamoli (sic). When the people of the village came to know about this, the villagers took a pledge not to allow the evil persons to enter the village (sic). People have demanded the District Magistrate (sic) that the registry of the land should be cancelled. Do not give land to any Vidharmi in Devbhoomi Uttarakhand, the birthplace of Hinduism. If you keep sitting with your eyes closed, then Devbhoomi will become Kashmir, Bengal, Kerala.”
In 2019, members of Bharti’s group, the Uttarakhand Raksha Abhiyan, had reportedly circulated 1.5 lakh pamphlets that incited Hindus to stand up against alleged changes in the demography of the state because of Muslims. Bharti was briefly incarcerated after this, having been arrested on charges of instigating communal violence against minorities after instances of looting and arson of shops belonging to the minority community were linked to his Facebook posts.
Last month, Bharti featured in a video with anti-Muslim preacher Narsinghanand Saraswati and former Shia Waqf Board chairman Waseem Rizvi at a function to launch the latter’s controversial book, Muhammad. The Wire had pointed out the anti-Muslim hate speeches at the event. At the same event, Narsinghanand’s patron, Hari Giri Maharaj, general secretary of the Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad and international patron of the Juna Akhara, had alleged the existence of ‘land jihad’ in Uttarakhand. Hari Giri had even written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in October about “the rise of the Muslim population in Haridwar” and urged the prime minister to keep Uttarakhand from becoming the “next Kashmir”.
‘Violation of fundamental rights’
Ganesh Godiyal, president of the state unit of the Congress party, told The Wire that the issue of ‘land jihad’ has been raised just before the assembly elections to polarise the public.
“By creating a negative environment against a particular community, the BJP wants to deflect attention from real issues and promote issues with no factual basis,” Godiyal said. “If the government wanted a fair probe, then it would have retired Supreme Court judges [in the committee] and not BJP leaders.”
“A propaganda theory named ‘land jihad’ which has no factual basis is being pushed through law,” said Patel, explaining how discriminatory practices become legal. “The mob’s word guides the regime to make such laws which specifically target Muslims. In the past, similar legal routes were used to implement segregation in Gujarat by two amendments in the Disturbed Area Act in 2003 and 2019. Muslims can’t buy land in certain places where even a foreigner can. The idea is to legally promote ghettoisation and stop Muslims from interacting with Hindus. A generation of Indians is growing up with no contact with Muslims. This will only further their demonisation.”
This story first appeared on thewire.in