India BJP's 'Hindu mass exodus' list sparks anger

BJP chief Amit Shah Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption BJP chief Amit Shah urged people to not take the "shocking event of Kairana lightly" at a rally on Monday

India's ruling BJP has denied that its decision to release two lists alleging the "mass exodus" of Hindus from two towns in northern Uttar Pradesh was intended to create religious divisions in the state, which goes to polls in 2017.

Parliamentarian Hukum Singh, who last week alleged that 346 Hindu families had fled the town of Kairana after facing threats from "Muslim criminal gangs", told the BBC that he was only trying to highlight the prevailing "lawlessness" in the state and denied that he was playing on religious tensions.

Soon after the publication of the list however, BJP president Amit Shah took up the matter at a public rally in the state on Monday, imploring the crowds to not take the "shocking events of Kairana lightly".

But soon, some media outlets questioned Mr Singh's statements after they found that several families mentioned in his list were still living in Kairana, forcing the BJP to take the stand that they were focusing on law and order, and not the "exodus of Hindus" in particular.

Faced with extensive criticism from opposition parties, the Uttar Pradesh state government and the media, the party on Thursday sent a fact-finding team to the town, which, according to reports has reiterated this stand.

'Seek the truth'

Mr Singh told the BBC however, that he "stands by his lists".

"The families left the two districts due to the poor law and order situation. The state government should take notice of this instead of criticising us," he said.

The parliamentarian, however, added that "one can't deny the fact the families who had to flee were Hindus" and urged people to "seek the truth".

Meanwhile, controversial BJP legislator Sangeet Som, who was previously charged with stoking tensions during Hindu-Muslim violence in the state's Muzzafarnagar district in 2013, was stopped by police from taking out a "peace procession" in Kairana.

He warned the state government however, that he would not hesitate to take to the streets again, if the families who fled are not "rehabilitated".

'Shocking event'

Following the controversy, Mr Singh released another list on Tuesday, which alleged that 63 Hindu families had migrated "under duress" from the nearby town of Kandhala.

The BBC met some of the families named in the lists.

Sonu Kashyap, whose name is in the list of those "forced" out of Kairana, did leave the village.

However his family who still lives there, deny that he left under duress.

"He left to work in another district to get better wages. I am here and my entire family is still living here. I have no idea how his name appeared on this list," his father Pala Kashyap said.

Image copyright Shravan Sharma
Image caption Pala Kashyap denied that there are religious tensions in Kairana
Image copyright Shravan Sharma
Image caption Mr Kashyap's family still lives in Kairana

Harish Sethi whose name also appears on the list and now lives in Delhi, also denied that he left Kandhala due to religious tensions.

"I came here to work because some of my family was already here. I took the decision to leave to get a higher salary. My house is still there [in Kandhala] and we haven't sold it," he said.

He added that there was no "tension between Hindus and Muslims" but said that "the law and order situation needs improvement".

"But then almost every town in the state needs better security."

Image copyright Shravan Sharma
Image caption Nobody lives in Harish Sethi's house in Kandhala
Image copyright Shravan Sharma
Image caption Ajay Gupta sold his house and left Kandhala last year

Ajay Gupta, however, agrees with the BJP stand on "forced exodus".

He said he sold his house and left Kandhala after facing threats from Muslim gangs.

"I had a small food cart near a cinema and I regularly faced threats. I was even attacked a few times and finally decided to leave," he said.

Image copyright Shravan Sharma
Image caption Sompal Rode said he was trying to leave Kairana

Sompal Rode had a similar story.

He said his three brothers decided to leave Kairana due to threats from criminal groups.

"I am also trying to sell my land and leave. I don't feel safe here because criminal groups routinely demand money," he said.

'Religious divide'

Opposition politicians, including Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, have accused the BJP of trying to create religious divisions to seek poll benefits.

A report by the state administration said that only three of the 346 families mentioned in Mr Singh's list had left Kairana due to threats from criminal gangs.

But Mr Singh insists that his information is "credible".

Image copyright AFP
Image caption At least 62 people died in the Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013

Correspondents say the BJP cannot afford to lose state elections in Uttar Pradesh, which is India's most populous state and sends the most number of MPs to parliament.

A big win here would bolster its chances of wielding more influence in the Rajya Sabha, where the party is in a minority, and sees a lot of its legislation blocked.

Many political parties in the state tend to rely on polarising religious communities to gain mass votes, they add.

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