New Delhi: Before the assembly elections in March this year, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Uttarakhand had repeatedly raised the purported issue of “large-scale migration of Muslims” to the state.
Then, on the last day of campaigning, chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami announced that if re-elected, the BJP would implement the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in the state – an often repeated promise by the party which many feel could be another avenue to further communal agenda instead of bringing about uniformity across personal laws.
While the two issues may have played some role in the BJP’s return to power in a state which had, until these polls, never re-elected any government, the saffron party has continued with its agenda after re-election, cementing its position by raising other issues targeting Muslims.
The party has highlighted a purported “increase” in the number of mazars in the state’s forest areas and alleged that madrasas are not complying with the norms of the education department.
After a gap of nearly 11 years, the Uttarakhand government had, earlier this year, ordered a survey of the state’s forest areas. While the state said the purpose was to determine the level of encroachment, many believe that it was conducted with the motive of counting religious buildings.
The survey said that many mazars, dargahs and burial grounds have allegedly come up in reserved forest areas where no one, apart from forest officials, is allowed to enter.
Most of these allegedly “unauthorised” structures were in the forests of the Terai and Bhabar regions, according to the report. The report also claimed that religious festivities organised in these structures disturbed the peace of the forest, posed a threat to wildlife and affected forest management.
Uttarakhand minority affairs minister Chandan Ram Das has, in the recent past, repeatedly stated that all unrecognised madrasas would be closed down if they did not obtain recognition from the Education Department.
During a visit to Almora recently, he said 419 madrasas were operational in the state of which 192 were being provided assistance by the state and Union governments. Das also said that instructions have been issued to stop all financial aid to madrasas that are not conforming with the Department’s norms.
The Dhami government has made repeated and oblique references to the issue of the alleged rise in the Muslim population in Uttarakhand by stating that it would be working towards repatriation of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants.
The chief minister also initiated a drive to check the “credentials” of people who have settled in Uttarakhand but belong to other states. A couple of days later, media reports said 201 ‘suspicious’ people had been identified. A Times of India report stated, “Police officials said that preventive action has been taken against all 201 people.”
The report had stated that a September, 2021 state government order directed the police and administrative officers to track “illegal land deals”, ostensibly to tackle the allegedly changing demography of the state.
The report noted that the Uttarakhand government had issued the order to check land dealings involving Muslims after BJP MLA Ajendra Ajay wrote to Dhami alleging rampant ‘land jihad’ in the state. In a television interview last year, Ajay also said, “This has been a demand of some people for a long time and now the issue is gaining momentum.”
Incidentally, Ajay was also made a member of a panel set up last September by the Dhami government to investigate land grabbing, demographic change and migration and make suggestions on the state’s new land law. The Wire