It’s not just the BJP, though. A few days later, Azam Khan, the Samajwadi Party (SP) urban development minister in the UP state government, said during an April 7 rally that it was Muslim soldiers, not Hindus, who won the 1999 Kargil war against Pakistan. ”There was no Hindu who conquered the peaks of Kargil, but the peaks of Kargil were conquered by the Muslim soldiers, who said ‘Allah ho Akbar.'”

Two days later, Khan said at another rally that Muslims must vote to “show the fascists their worth and status and today you have to take revenge on the murders of Muzaffarnagar, and today you have to press the button and take revenge against the atrocities of 2002 in Gujarat.” Over 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in the Gujarat riots.

On Apr. 11, the Election Commission banned both Khan and Shah from holding public rallies, and called for criminal complaints to be registered against them. The commission said that their statements were made with “deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings and religious beliefs,” and also criticized the state government of not even issuing complaints against the men.

Khan has been charged with “promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion” and “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.” Shah has been charged with “promoting enmity between classes in connection with the elections” and  “disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant.”

But it gets worse.

Political parties in Muzaffarnagar don’t kick out people accused of inciting violence, they put them on the ticket. Two candidates who ran from Muzaffarnagar on April 10 face charges linked to the religious violence in September—Sanjeev Baliyan, the BJP candidate, Kadir Rana, the candidate from the Bahujan Samaj Party.

Seven months after the riots, villages that have been mixed for generations no longer have Muslims, who fled and have settled closer to other Muslim villages. The air is toxic with anger and sadness on both sides.

When I was there on polling day, instead of talking about western UP’s issues, such as bad roads (some of the worst in the country), criminality or corruption, Jat-Hindus and Muslims alike spoke of voting for the party that would protect them—the same parties that encouraged their divide in the first place.

Mehndi Hassan, after voting.
Mehndi Hassan, after voting.
Image: Betwa Sharma

“We don’t care about the roads. Lets talk about protecting people first and the SP has always protected us,” said Mehndi Hassan, 60, whose family is building a new house close to a Muslim village with the money he has received as compensation after the riots.

📬 Sign up for the Daily Brief

Our free, fast, and fun briefing on the global economy, delivered every weekday morning.