Bihar has seen 87 major and minor communal clashes between June and December 2013, over three times the 24 incidents during the corresponding period of 2012. This coincides with the split of the ruling JD(U) with the BJP, an alliance of 17 years, and comes after seven-and-a-half years without a single major communal clash.
A monthly break-up of communal clashes in 2013 has been compiled by intelligence agencies. Bihar Police headquarters does not keep a separate record for “communal violence” while its “riots” column includes fights irrespective of the caste and religion of the offenders. The major clashes have taken place in Khagaria, Betiah and Nawada, while Jamui, Kaimur, Gaya and Sitamarhi too have seen clashes.
Betiah and Nawada are BJP strongholds while Khagaria’s communal violence took place in an area where the JD(U) is dominant. “When it was with the JD(U), the BJP with its well-entrenched cadre played an effective role in dealing with any communal flare-up,” an intelligence source said. “Now the JD(U) faces a cadre and leadership vacuum in dealing with such situations on its own.”
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Ever since Narendra Modi’s October 27 rally in Patna, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has been frequently warning of “attempts to vitiate the atmosphere”. Without naming the BJP directly, he has made the warning at public speeches, once at a JD(U) convention in Rajgir, and again at a meeting of non-Congress and non-BJP parties in Delhi.
The BJP, for its part, accuses the government of being soft on Muslims. Nawada district’s BJP president Sanjay Kumar Munna and its Bajrang Dal president Jitendra Pratap, both among seven booked for the violence in that district, told The Indian Express that it was Muslim groups who had started the clash over a trifle. They alleged that police sided with the Muslims by deploying a heavy force in Hindu-dominated areas and a very light one in Muslim villages.
The Nawada clashes from August 10 to 12 left a youth of each community dead and 16 people from both groups as well as three policemen injured. None of the accused was arrested or questioned; all of them have got anticipatory bail.
Officials said the clash took off from an argument at a dhaba on August 9. Six youths from Bhadauni village asked for chicken and were told only vegetarian was being served because of ongoing kanwariya programmes. The next morning, the dhaba was ransacked, vehicles stopped and some kanwariyas assaulted, leading to clashes between villagers of Muslim-dominated Bhadauni and Hindu-dominated Godapur, officials said.
The violence in Betiah on August 11 was centred around some posters mocking the Congress and the JD(U) for being allegedly soft on Muslims. A Mahavir Jhanda procession with placards such as “We are ready to make Muslim voters our sons-in-law,” was pelted with stones when it reached Innar Chowk, which has a mixed population. The clash left 14 people from the two communities as well as eight policemen injured. Over two dozen people including a ward councillor were arrested.
Khagaria had seen violence on July 2, over the burial of a body on disputed land. Three people were injured and shops of members of both communities torched. In April, too, villagers of Bachauta had clashed over a boundary wall on disputed land, leaving 14 injured. And on the night of July 16, people of two villages in Gaya clashed over an immersion procession, leaving 16 including three policemen injured.
“Three major communal incidents and a number of minor incidents are a cause for concern because of their timing,” said Ashraf Farid, chiefe ditor of the Urdu daily Qaomi Tanzeem. “The government has to be vigilant when the political campaign intensifies. Lalu and Nitish will be vying for Muslim votes against the Narendra Modi factor.”
Minority Affairs Minister Shahid Ali Khan says, “It is the job of intelligence agencies to report even minor communal incidents. Most of these were of a very local nature and handled fast,” he said. Asked if that means the government is dismissing the spurt, Khan said: “We are certainly keeping a watch and the police are on alert.”