Uttar Pradesh on June 10 saw widespread protests following violence triggered by two BJP leaders’ Notes about the Prophet — one of the leaders was suspended and the other expelled from the party. In response, the police arrested around 300 people and, with the authorities demolishing the house of a political activist and businessman in Prayagraj earlier this week, the families of those held in connection with last week’s violence are afraid of receiving show-cause notices about the demolition of their homes. The matter has reached the Supreme Court, which on Thursday sought a response from the state government on the Jamiat-Ulama-i-Hind’s plea and underlined that the “rule of law has to prevail” and “no demolition can take place without following the due process of law”.
But while the state administration’s actions drew huge criticism on social media, the Opposition parties in the state have been conspicuous by their absence on the ground. Parties like the Samajwadi Party (SP), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and the Congress have criticized the BJP-led government but have not taken to the streets to protest against either the demolitions or the government’s Agnipath military recruitment scheme that has triggered demonstrations in the state in the last two days.
The SP, which has been the main Opposition party in the state since 2017, last hit the streets in large-scale protests in March 2011. This was a year before it came to power in the state with an absolute majority. During those protests over a decade ago, the party organized aggressive demonstrations in Lucknow against the BSP-led government that ruled the state at the time. At the time, current SP president Akhilesh Yadav attracted public attention as images of him confronting the police, and getting arrested and dragged to a police van made the news. The SP claimed that its workers had burnt more than one lakh effigies of Mayawati, then the chief minister, across the state. At least 317 SP workers were arrested from different parts of UP. Back then, the SP’s frontal outfits such as the Lohia Vahini, the Mulayam Singh Yadav Youth Brigade, and the Samajwadi Chhatra Sabha were known for staging street protests.
Last year, SP workers assembled in Lucknow after the police detained Akhilesh for protesting outside his residence after not being allowed to visit Lakhimpur Kheri where a convoy of three SUVs, including one owned by Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Mishra, killed four farmers and a journalist. In the ensuing violence, three people linked to the BJP were killed.
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“BJP is trying to end the democracy. We are making all efforts to save democracy. Akhilesh ji played an active role in the recent Assembly session as the Leader of Opposition,” said spokesperson party Rajendra Chaudhary.
Asked why the party had not taken to the streets in such a long time, he added, “Strategy and preparations are required. We are doing it.”
Like the SP, the BSP has been noticeably absent from street protests and agitations. On March 27, in the first organizational meeting after its debacle in the Assembly elections, Mayawati instructed party workers to keep helping victims of atrocities. “But you do not have to stage dharnas and demonstrations for that,” she said.
The BSP had last taken to the roads in July 2016 when then national general secretary Naseemuddin Siddiqui had led a protest in Lucknow demanding the arrest of BJP leader Dayashankar Singh for allegedly making objectionable remarks about the BSP president. Siddiqui is now in the Congress while Singh is a minister in the Yogi Adityanath government.
The year before, in April, BSP workers and leaders had staged demonstrations across the state against the land acquisition bill, “the apathy” of the state and central governments for farmers affected by unseasonal rains, and the “deteriorating” law and order in the state under the SP. That was the first sit-in that the party had organized in a decade. Mayawati did not participate in that sit-in too as, according to the party, “she was busy keeping a sharp eye on the activities of the central government in Parliament”.
Congress spokesperson Surendra Rajpoot claimed that the party was standing firmly with those whose homes were either being demolished or were under the threat of demolition. “The party will stage dharnas and demonstrations and hit the streets. We are standing in support of victims on the street and in Parliament and courts. The party has earlier also staged demonstrations on the issues of inflation, law and order and farmers,” he added.
But the party, which has not had a state unit chief since Ajay Kumar Lallu stepped down three months ago, is weak organizationally in the state. Its recent attempt at a demonstration was on Thursday when some of its leaders and workers were detained as they tried to march from the state party office to the Raj Bhavan in protest against the ongoing questioning of former party president Rahul Gandhi.
Meanwhile, SP ally Rashtriya Lok Dal (RL) alleged that the lack of protests was due to the government not letting others stage demonstrations even in a democratic manner. The party’s national spokesperson Rohit Agarwal said, “RLD always stages protests within democratic boundaries. We are aggressive in a democratic manner. RLD MLAs recently gave a memorandum to the Saharanpur administration over bulldozer policy.”
Agarwal said party president Jayant Chaudhary was going to organise a “Yuva Panchayat” in UP from June 28 to demand the withdrawal of the “Agnipath” recruitment scheme.
An Opposition party leader, requesting anonymity, said, “The BJP government is playing from both sides. It disturbs the harmony using notorious elements. The Opposition parties have become keen in doing something in this situation. If we become more aggressive, the government can accuse us of being with rioters.”