The local administration has a lot to answer for the violence that killed five in Haldwani in Uttarakhand last week. Violence erupted after authorities demolished a madrasa and mosque, allegedly built on government land. The ownership of the land is disputed, and the high court is set to hear the matter on February 14. The administration should have waited for the court to settle the matter instead of hurriedly carrying out the demolitions.
Last week’s incident did not take place in a vacuum and should not have caught the administration by surprise. Uttarakhand has been restive for some time now. Last year, there were calls for the boycott and expulsion of Muslims from Uttarkashi over an alleged case of love jihad. A mass eviction from railway land in Haldwani following a high court order in 2022, had led to protests by the residents, mostly Muslims. The current demolitions have coincided with the passage of the uniform civil code Bill (UCC) in the Uttarakhand legislative assembly: The UCC is perceived by many as an instrument to target Muslims, who constitute 14% of the state’s population.
Besides, demolitions by municipal authorities have acquired a political colour, especially in BJP-ruled states. The demolition of property by state agencies is now perceived by many as a symbol of administrative high-handedness and vindictiveness towards Muslims. In Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, and most recently, in Mira Road, Mumbai, the local administration was accused of sending in bulldozers as a response to suspected crises of law and order: Use of bulldozers to demolish property belonging to Muslims involved in protests had earned UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath the moniker of “bulldozer baba”. In this context, the administration needs to be careful how it proceeds with municipal actions, however fair and legitimate they may be, especially with general elections around the corner. And, no leniency shown to lawbreakers.
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