Author : Niranjan Sahoo

Originally Published 2014-08-21 00:00:00 Published on Aug 21, 2014
Compared to an average 100,000 incidents annually in the 1980s and 1990s, India witnessed only 72,126 communal riots in 2013. Thus, overall there has been a drastic reduction in communal riots. Yet, these macro statistics do not reveal the changing nature of communal violence and their intensities.
Widening communal fault lines pose challenge to Modi govt

Speaking at India’s 68th Independence Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday appealed for a 10-year moratorium of sorts on communal violence. His appeal showed he himself was worried about the communal tensions, gripping many parts of India, especially the state of Uttar Pradesh. They could have serious impacts on growth.

A few days earlier, the Indian parliament began a long overdue debate on rising incidents of communal violence. A combative opposition forced a reluctant right-wing BJP to debate the rising specter of communal riots affecting peace and social harmony in Uttar Pradesh, India’s biggest state.

The debate was political however, and just involved trading accusations and counter-accusations by the lawmakers. Despite this, it did help generate timely introspection into the country’s fragile communal situation and the tense and volatile atmosphere that prevails in many parts of India.

Is the communal situation as grim in India as the opposition has recently painted via media? Going by the statistics of National Crime Reports Bureau (NCRB), incidences of communal riots, including violence used by unlawful assembly and caste related clashes, have in fact been very low in number in recent years. Compared to an average 100,000 incidents annually in the 1980s and 1990s, 2013 witnessed only 72,126 communal riots. Thus, overall there has been a drastic reduction in communal riots.

Yet, these macro statistics do not reveal the changing nature of communal violence and their intensities.

For instance, while states like Uttar Pradesh might have witnessed a decline in the average number of communal riots or violence - 38 percent according to the NCRB - the severity and extent of the loss of lives and property from these riots have gone up at an alarming pace.

In the last two years, Uttar Pradesh has been the epicenter for many large and small riots. After a long lull since the demolition of a 16th century Babri mosque in 1992, Uttar Pradesh saw full-blown riots in Muzaffarnagar last year. This widespread violence cost 64 lives and rendered more than 100,000 people refugees in their home town.

The riots in the otherwise peaceful town of Muzaffarnagar raised serious questions about the ruling government led by the Samajwadi Party that owes its rise to support of Muslims and the pro-Hindu BJP.

However, even before the fire of Muzaffarnagar was completely extinguished, the state had witnessed several such large-scale riots in Saharanpur, Meerut, Moradabad and recently in Shamli that saw full-blown violent clashes. Between 2012 and 2013, 116 people lost their lives in these rising communal cauldron.

Despite high voltage media coverage of the incidents, judicial activism and widespread national condemnations, the specter of communal conflicts are only growing in many regions of Uttar Pradesh.

To a great extent, the cause of the violence is the country’s democratic politics. The spike in communal incidents has many causes, including the rise of Hindu nationalist parties and the emergence of parties representing minorities since the late 1980s.

This does not mean other parties have not played the identity card. In fact, many analysts claim the rise of the BJP represents cynical minority appeasement politics by the Indian National Congress.

With regard to Uttar Pradesh, the more than 600 riots that have taken place in the last three months since Modi came to power in Delhi can be directly linked to vote bank politics.

According to various media reports, nearly all riots that have taken place in Uttar Pradesh in the past three months occurred in the 12 assembly segments that are slated to go to the polls in November. The result of these by-polls will have larger implications for assembly elections in 2017.

Places with large concentrations of Muslims, as much as 30 to 40 percent in some areas, have become fertile ground for communal mobilisation and the politics of polarization by key political actors in the state.

Thus, every political actor is competing to harvest a political dividend in the communally charged atmosphere in Uttar Pradesh. Never forget that Uttar Pradesh alone holds a mammoth 80 seats out of 545 seats of India’s lower house.

As India’s new prime minister, Modi has his task cut out for him, in addressing the rising rates of communal violence. With the 2002 Gujarat riot weighing him down, and with serious perception issues that his parent party faces with regard to minority populations, he has had to walk an extra mile to ensure that the government under his rein is fair to everyone.

Courtesy: The Global Times, Beijing

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Niranjan Sahoo

Niranjan Sahoo

Niranjan Sahoo, PhD, is a Senior Fellow with ORF’s Governance and Politics Initiative. With years of expertise in governance and public policy, he now anchors ...

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