Many Hindu families left western Uttar Pradesh's Kairana town not because of Muslim criminal threats but in search of jobs five years ago, an HT investigation found on Monday, indicating "mass exodus" allegations may have been made to fan communal passions ahead of state polls.
Local BJP member of Parliament Hukum Singh has dominated headlines for the last week after alleging that Muslim gangs -- including that led by the alleged ringleader Mukhim Kala -- issued extortion threats to 350-odd Hindu families and drove them out of town, with cover from the Samajwadi Party.
But when Kala was arrested last October, he had 14 murder charges against him, 3 Hindus and 11 Muslims.
The BJP's list doesn't mention 115 Muslim families who also migrated from just one locality of Alkala in the town.
The local administration's verification of 119 names given by Singh found that 66 of them left their homes five years ago, way before Kala was active or the SP was in power.
Moreover, the list of people isn't typical of those who get extortion threats. 34 of them owned small shops, 55 were laborers, 13 farmers, five lawyers, two school teachers and three clerks.
But what the BJP's charges appeared to have done is inject communal feeling in the Muslim-majority town that has otherwise always remained peaceful, even in the midst of the Muzaffarnagar riots two years ago that killed 60 people.
Kairana is also just 10 kilometres away from Panipat, a thriving business hub. "We are verifying the complaint by Hukum Singh, and so far we have found these are instances of migration. Shamli does not have any industries so approximately 8000-10000 people go to Panipat and other places in Haryana," district magistrate of Shamli, Sujeet Kumar said.
Kala struck terror in Kairana two years ago by killing two businessmen. A few weeks later, one more businessman Vinod Kumar was shot dead in broad daylight.
After Kumar's death, the town locked down in protest for 12 days. In the weeks preceding Kumar's murder, 200-300 Muslims volunteer helped the Hindu Kawaria pilgrims, a tradition in the area.
In Kairana's Peepthothala, two blocks of a house that lawyer Anshuman stays is remain locked. These two blocks belong to his brothers who left in 2010 to start cosmetic shops in Meerut and Delhi. "There are no jobs here, no facility, I cannot move so I stayed back, but yes safety is a concern," Anshuman said.
But Vinod Kumar's brother Varun thought differently. "Only one community received the demands for extortion and another community was spared," he said.
The buzz in district headquarters of Shamli is that the immediate provocation of the controversy is the upcoming assembly polls. Singh might have been worried about the loss of his nephew to SP's Nahid Hasan in the local bypolls last year.
The controversy threatens to rupture the fabric of communal harmony in the town. The Muslims are mostly converted from the Gujjar community, so in a multi-pronged poll contest, a fractured electorate improves the chances of non-Muslim candidates. The BJP's national executive meet in Allahabad also indicated the party intends to highlight the alleged communal problem in Kairana during the UP polls campaign.
Back in the 100,000-strong town, a lack of jobs appears a bigger problem than communal ill-will. A quick check of employment under MNREGA shows there are not many takers for the scheme. Kumar has the explanation, "In Shamli Mnrega gives Rs 172 whereas in Haryana its Rs 262. So even for Mnrega people from Kairana prefer Panipat".
In Alkala – the neighbourhood where many Muslims migrated from -- Mohammed Khursheed said, "We are four brothers and I am the only one here. My brothers left in search of job several years ago and settled there".
In this lane of two dozen houses, seven are locked because the inhabitants have migrated in search of job. "Jobs are the main concern here. Otherwise Kairana is a communally peaceful block with all its complexities", says Sujeet Kumar.