Sir hamare yahan, ye western UP ke kuchch ilaake disturbed chal rahe hain. Ye BJP waale danga-fasaad karva rahe hain. Hamne force bheja hai (Sir there are these areas in western UP which have been disturbed for sometime. BJP men are organising riots there. We have sent forces).”
This was what a casual and seemingly unflustered Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav told Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde around 2 pm on September 7, the day riots in Muzaffarnagar took a turn for the worse.
Sitting next to him on the lunch table while he took the call was Rajendra Chaudhary, the lone Jat minister in Akhilesh’s cabinet, who kept wondering if the situation had really worsened. When pointed out that this area was considered a stronghold of Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) leader Ajit Singh, Choudhary was quick to interject with a endorsing nod from his boss: “No, Ajit Singh has nothing to do with this.”
At no point did Akhilesh seem to think that the situation would get out of hand in a manner that the Army would have to be called in for the first time in over a decade to control a communal flare-up in Uttar Pradesh. It was a severe indictment of his administration, for this was not a riot that came like a bolt from the blue. It had been festering for a while, and Akhilesh as well as his officers were well aware of this.
His Director General of Police had just returned from the area a day before and told him matters were under control. Prior to that, a Senior Additional Director General of Police had been sent from Lucknow and deployed there specifically to handle the situation. Akhilesh was confident that the worst was over in Muzaffarnagar—an assessment that would prove to be terribly wrong as the day wore on.
Such was Akhilesh’s confidence that the previous day, September 6, he had flown to Delhi to attend a NASSCOM event and even accompanied wife Dimple Yadav to the Lok Sabha for the last day of the monsoon session.
His big issue that evening had been fending off criticism for having got NASSCOM to hold its function