If the BJP’s allies in Bihar have raised concerns about rising incidents of communal tension in the state, they have reason to. Since July 2017, when the JD(U) led by Nitish Kumar broke its alliance with the RJD-Congress and went back to the NDA, there have been 200 incidents of communal tension, as many as 64 this year alone, a scrutiny of official records by The Indian Express reveals. Compare this with data of the last five years: 50 such incidents in 2012, 112 in 2013; 110 in 2014, 155 in 2015, 230 in 2016. At 270, 2017 recorded the highest number of communal incidents in recent times.
Of the 64 cases so far this year, there were 21 in January, 13 in February and 30 in March. Many of the incidents in March have been over religious processions passing through Muslim areas.
This year, besides the Araria incident, when an allegedly fake video of three Muslim youths shouting “anti-India slogans” went viral after the RJD’s win in the bypoll there, communal incidents were reported from Bhagalpur, Munger, Aurangabad, Samastipur, Shekhpura, Nawada and Nalanda.
Central and state intelligence agencies said the surge in presence of people during Ram Navami processions, especially in Aurangabad, Nalanda, and Shekhpura, points to an “unprecedented mass mobilisation”.
Sources in the police headquarters said that though traditional weapons such as lances, swords and gadasa (a blunt object to cut husk) have been displayed during Ramnavami processions in the past, this year’s processions have witnessed youths brandishing “a bigger number of brand new swords”. Police are now investigating if these swords were supplied by a particular group.
Bihar police headquarters, however, said the months around Ramnavami (March) and Dussehra (September-October) have always been sensitive. “It is too early to say that there has been a communal surge this year. But yes, we do see hints of bigger mass mobilisation,” said a senior police officer at the headquarters, adding that the force will have to be alert to deal with rumour-mongers.
Bihar Director General of Police K S Dwivedi said, “Though there have been communal incidents, police have controlled it immediately. We have not yet sat down to analyse trends and surges but we are dealing with individual cases on merit and material and corroborative evidences. There could be politicians and people out to foment trouble. We are looking into each case minutely to understand increased mass mobilisation.”
Consider these incidents in March:
Araria: Three Muslim youth were arrested for allegedly raising pro-Pakistan slogans during the March 14 victory celebrations of RJD leader Sarfaraz Alam, who had defeated BJP’s Pradeep Kumar Singh in the Araria bypoll. They were arrested on the basis of a video that had gone viral in which they were allegedly heard shouting these slogans. The family of the accused, however, produced the “original video” where the boys were heard saying, “Katno kariyo baap baap, lalten chhaap (However hard opponents try, RJD will win).” Police have sent the video for forensic tests and are awaiting its results. The three youth remain in judicial custody.
Bhagalpur: On March 18, Union minister Ashwini Kumar Choubey’s son Arjit Shaswat had led a motorcycle procession from the main town through the Muslim-dominated locality of Nathnagar on the eve of the Hindu new year. Besides Shaswat, several local BJP leaders were part of the procession. As the bikers allegedly raised provocative slogans, some Muslim youths objected. Both sides allegedly started pelting stones, injuring over a dozen people. Though Shaswat claimed he was not at site of the clash, police booked him and eight others, most of them local BJP leaders, on charges of inciting violence. He surrendered before Patna police on Saturday night.
Munger: On March 25, a group of boys installed a cement statue of Lord Hanuman at a vacant railway land, which was being used by some Muslim butchers. As tension rose, police intervened and brought the situation under control. But when an idol immersion procession crossed through a Muslim settlement under the same police thana, both sides pelted stones, injuring over a dozen people. Seven people have been arrested and FIRs have been lodged against 12 people from either side.
Aurangabad: On March 26, about 100 motorcyclists took out a procession as a build-up to the main Ramnavami procession the next day. As the procession reached Nawadih, some Muslim youths from the locality allegedly started pelting stones. The procession then moved towards Ramesh Chowk, where 15 shops belonging to both communities were torched. Police arrested 28 Muslims and 25 Hindus. The next day, the Ramnavami procession saw an unprecedented turnout of about 10,000 people. Both sides clashed near Badi Jama Masjid, with stone-pelting that went on for 45 minutes. Police filed another FIR, naming 78 people, including district BJP spokesperson Ujjawal Kumar, senior BJP leader Anil Singh and ABVP’s national executive member Deepak Kumar. All of them are absconding.
Samastipur: On March 26, when a Ramnavami procession was passing through Gudari Bazar Jama Masjid, a slipper fell or was thrown at the procession from a Muslim household. As tempers rose, a crowd started building up near the mosque, egged on by several WhatsApp messages that asked people to reach the area. In the presence of police, several people climbed on top of the mosque and put a Ramnavami flag and a Tricolor on it. The crowd also started throwing bricks at the dozen-odd Muslim houses in the area. Samastipur police have lodged cases against 54 people, including a state-level BJP leader for inciting communal violence. Police have arrested 11 people so far, including the BJP state weavers’ cell general secretary Mohan Patwa.
Nalanda: On March 28, members of a Ramnavami procession had allegedly insisted on crossing through a Muslim village that was not on the scheduled route. Police then allowed a few people to take the new route, but others joined in too. This led to stone-pelting and communal tension. Of the 74 people named in the FIR, 36 people, including Bajrang Dal’s Nalanda district convenor Dhiraj Kumar and another Bajrang Dal functionary Kundan Kumar, have been arrested.
Nawada: On the morning of March 28, a damaged idol of Lord Hanuman near NH-31 sparked communal tension. Angry over the desecration, a group of people targeted a wedding party staying in a hotel nearby and also pelted stones at a bus. Six people have been injured. No case has been lodged yet.
Jamui: On the night of March 28, angry that police did not allow an idol immersion procession to cross through the Muslim-dominated Mahisauri village, a group of people started pelting stones at the police. Three policemen were injured. No arrest has been made yet.
Banka: On March 27, some people who were part of an idol immersion procession passing through Ahiro village allegedly shouted provocative slogans. Two Muslims of the area complained to the police and a case was lodged against 20 unknown people.
Muzaffarpur: On March 25, some people in a Ramnavami procession that was passing through Songarh village allegedly asked a Muslim to chant Jai Shri Ram. A case was lodged; no arrest has been made yet.
Sitamarhi: On March 26, Arun Thakur, a resident of Ladauri village under Parihar police station, was attacked with a sword in Parihar, allegedly by one Jahid Sheikh, a resident of Adapur, a nearby village. Though the incident was said to be the result of personal rivalry, the incident sparked communal tension.
While the BJP admitted to the spurt in violence, party spokesperson Rajiv Ranjan said, “This Ramnavami surely had more attendance. But police should also investigate role of RJD in instigating violence. Police have already booked RJD and Congress leaders at some places. As for a possible surge in violence, it is be too early to draw any conclusion.”
JD(U) national spokesperson KC Tyagi said, “Though communal tension has taken place in the past on Ramnavami but current trends are ominous and lumpen elements have to be castigated at the top level. I remember the PM once called some cow vigilantes petty criminals and the message went down to the people. The state has to rein in such forces immediately.”