Days after the demolition of properties – largely Muslim-owned – by authorities in Madhya Pradesh following the Ram Navami violence in Khargone, editorials in the Hindu and Times of India have questioned if the move was legal and without bias.
In recent years, the bulldozer has become synonymous with the idea of justice served quick and cold, with JCB machines often used to raze properties of alleged criminals – without trial – in BJP-ruled states such as UP and MP.
Meanwhile, other prominent newspapers did not dedicate editorial pieces to the demolition, but most of them spoke against the BJP’s ostensible complicity in the recent communal violence across eight states.
In an editorial on Thursday, the Hindu wrote, “The rule of law has a new interpretation in Madhya Pradesh: it is whatever is done by the rulers, and requires neither law nor process. The demolition…does not appear to be based on any law. It is undoubtedly an instance of collective punishment for the alleged acts of a few. There is little doubt that it was a state-backed drive aimed at Muslims.”
“The basis for the action is the allegation that the Hindu procession was targeted by stones as it passed through a lane adjacent to a mosque. An official spin is sought to be given to the demolition drive that these were ‘encroachments’ and were removed under existing rules. However, the zeal shown in bringing in bulldozers a day after violence marred the Ram Navami procession indicates that punishing those suspected of involvement was the main motivating factor.”
In an editorial published by Times of India on Wednesday, the news platform wrote, “The state’s action of using its official apparatus to pursue remedial responses outside the ambit of laws and rights is a violation of due process and procedure. MP government cites the Madhya Pradesh Prevention of Damage to Public and Private Property and Recovery of Damage Act passed last year, and claims it was acting against those rioters squatting on government land. But, crucially, this Act mandates the District Magistrate or other officers to first approach a Claims Tribunal. Even a demolition for encroachment of public land requires a reasonable notice period for the squatters to pursue legal remedies or vacate premises.
“The state is constitutionally mandated to follow a fair, just and equitable procedure after the landmark Maneka Gandhi case of 1978. This inversion of due process and procedure by razing houses/shops of alleged suspects also victimises entire families who may have nothing to do with riots. Meanwhile, accountability of police and administration in preventing riots goes unmentioned.”
The Indian Express cartoon by E P Unny on Tuesday also took a dig at the MP government’s action. “Is the pandemic over? You see more bulldozers than ambulances,” asked the protagonist of ‘Business As Usual’.
On the editorial page, the paper carried a piece titled ‘A constant simmer’, which talked about the “dismal pattern to the communal violence that erupted, across states, on the occasion of Ram Navami”. “These were some of the shared features: A religious procession, sometimes armed; provocative slogan and song; stone-pelting; viral videos, from both sides, that inflamed by what they showed and what they hid; delayed or inadequate or partisan police response; curfew. From Karauli in Rajasthan to Khargone in MP, from Khambhat and Himmatnagar in Gujarat to the Baina area of Vasco in Goa, from Howrah’s Shibpur in West Bengal to Lohardaga in Jharkhand — the anatomy of violence was similar.”
“...It is clear that the BJP, by its words and silences, especially in government, provides political support to those who would deepen the divides.”
Other prominent newspapers did not focus on the demolition drive in Madhya Pradesh but did devote space on its editorial pages to the communal violence across several states.
The Telegraph, in an editorial about “systematic targeting” of the Muslim community, wrote on Tuesday, “The Karnataka chief minister took some time to decide that his government will look into the demand to boycott halal meat; this does not entirely paper over the fact that the Bharatiya Janata Party is not inimical to the campaign. The hijab controversy had culminated in the Karnataka High Court’s ruling disallowing hijabs in educational institutions. This was followed by the campaign banning non-Hindu traders from opening stalls on or near temple premises and that against halal meat. Both target the economy of the minority community. If these moves prosper, the worst sufferers would be farmers who raise livestock; they have already been hit with a beef ban. But the BJP national general secretary steadily pointed his finger: allegedly, the minority community is waging economic jihad through the sale of halal meat. Is all this a build-up to the state elections next year?
The Deccan Herald, in an editorial on Tuesday, wrote about controversial Dasna priest Yati Narsinghanand, who is being treated “with kid gloves by the government” – in a reference to the Hindutva leader being allowed to make one hate speech after another in violation of his bail conditions. “This is majoritarian aggression as never seen before, and with sanction from the State.”
The Hindustan Times chose to skip the communal violence across states to focus on the clash over non-vegetarian food on the JNU campus. “It is now a norm for students to take such disputes to the police instead of the university authorities. This must change. Students are not criminals,” stated an editorial on Tuesday.
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