NEW DELHI—The Muslim community in Maharashtra, considered as India’s richest state, has been at the receiving end since the Bharatiya Janata Party formed the government in June 2022 after pulling down the Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance by engineering a rebellion in Shiv Sena. Religious polarisation is at its peak, visible in communal rallies, while right-wing groups are targeting Muslims with violent attacks. Maharashtra is home to nearly 1.30 crore Muslims or 11.5% of its population.
Rallies are taking place continuously in different cities of the state with the call for economic boycott of Muslims. Activists say that the Eknath Shinde Government is covertly supporting the rallies to communalise the atmosphere before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections and damage the secular ethos for political gains. Muslims in Maharashtra are also waiting for restoration of 5% reservation which was originally given to them in 2014.
The latest instance of Muslims being harassed has taken place in Kolhapur, where Muslims were targeted on Wednesday over some social media messages reportedly glorifying Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb and 18th century Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan. The right-wing outfits, claiming that the Hindu sentiments had been hurt, called for a shutdown of the district and a large number of their activists gathered at Kolhapur city’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Chowk.
The demonstrators became aggressive and a mob entered Muslim-dominated localities, resorting to stone-pelting, destroying shop facades and overturning handcarts. Following fracas between groups of the two communities, the police resorted to lathi charge. Later, the police arrested 36 persons, including three minors, on Thursday in connection with the violence.
Maharashtra Home Minister Devendra Fadnavis had the audacity to declare that the State Government would not tolerate anyone glorifying Aurangzeb in the land of Chhatrapati Shivaji.
“While it is natural that there will be anger if Aurangzeb is glorified in Chhatrapati Shivaji’sMaharashtra, there is a need to investigate how come so many of Aurangzeb’s sons have arisen suddenly. Who is behind all this social tension?” Fadnavis said, throwing to the wind all constitutional norms for maintaining neutrality.
The incident fits a pattern of recent clashes and rioting in Akola, Ahmednagar and elsewhere between Hindus and Muslims resulting in heightened social tensions across Maharashtra. Prior to that, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs approved the State Government’s proposal to rename Aurangabad city as Chhatrapati Sambhajinagar and the Osmanabad city as Dharashiv. It was a long-pending demand by the BJP and right-wing groups in Maharashtra as part of their campaign to get rid of the connection of these cities with the medieval history.
Civil rights groups in the state have pointed out that the concerted attempts to destabilise a relatively peaceful state might have something to do with next year’s general elections in which Narendra Modi’s BJP is seeking a third straight term. Every poll and survey has suggested that the BJP is struggling in Maharashtra, while this is an age-old tactic of the right wing to create a perception that Hindus are in danger. It is a bogey raised by Hindu groups to create fear among ordinary Hindus and unite them as a vote bank.
Three rallies were organised recently by the Sakal Hindu Samaj (SHS) in Navi Mumbai, Vasai and Solapur. The SHS has been pushing not only for their demand of the State Government to pass legislation to deal with ‘Love Jihad’ and cow slaughter but also for economic boycott of the Muslim community. Activists say that Maharashtra has always remained a progressive state, but it is fast
losing its ethos due to these hate-mongers. Former Bombay High Court judge B.G. Kolse Patil clearly says that the BJP is behind these communal rallies. “How can Devendra Fadnavis, the Home Minister of the state, stop these rallies? He has been encouraging these rallies intentionally so that his party’s foundation remains intact,” he said.
The protests called ‘Jan Aakrosh’ by the SHS have children as young as four years of age to the elderly. The march by the protesters raises slogans which are anti-Muslim in nature. It is being estimated that nearly 4,000 people belonging to various Hindu outfits have already participated in these rallies. Sadly, this is happening in a state which takes pride in the egalitarian ethos of Mahatma Jyotiba Phule, Shahu Maharaj and B.R. Ambedkar.
According to the newspaper reports, a Gujarat resident identified as Kajal Shingla alias Kajal Hindustani has been a keynote speaker at all of these rallies. She claims to be working for the cause of ‘Hindu Human Rights’. She also makes an unconstitutional call urging people to boycott Muslim vendors. At one of the rallies, Singhla claimed that Muslims had taken over “our produce and fruit markets”. “I want you to repeat after me: We, the people of Maharashtra, will boycott them economically,” she declared…