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Mapping the surge in Bihar: Tension in areas where BJP made big electoral gains

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won 18 of the 23 seats from the 18 districts that The Indian Express visited.

Written by Appu Esthose Suresh | Jehanabad/ Saran/ Nalanda | Updated: August 21, 2015 11:44:26 am
Narendra Modi, modi in bihar, bihar elections, modi bihar elections, bihar assembly polls, nitish kumar, lalu prasad yadav, Bihar polls, Bihar communal incidents, BJP, JD(U), BJp JD(U)alliance, Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad, Bihar, Nitish Kumar, BJP, bihar polls, bihar poll campaign, bihar rally modi in bihar, modi bjp rally, modi bihar rally, modi news, bjp news, india news, Indian express Security forces stage a march in Bihar’s Jehanabad district on June 27 during a shutdown called by the VHP in protest against police firing two days earlier to defuse tension surrounding a land dispute between Hindus and Muslims. (Source: PTI)

The almost three-fold spike in “communal incidents” after the BJP-JD(U) ruling alliance broke up on June 18, 2013, with both Hindus and Muslims listed as instigators, assumes political significance in Bihar during an election year especially when the BJP has shown significant gains across the state. Indeed, in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won 18 of the 23 seats from the 18 districts that The Indian Express visited. Its allies LJP and RLSP won two seats each from these districts, with only Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s Nalanda going to the JD(U).

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Both sides see a potential harvest in these seeds of discord: the BJP uses the surge in these incidents to argue, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi did in his Saharsa rally this week, that law and order has collapsed in the state. The Bihar unit of BJP also claims the ruling political dispensation is biased and indulges in Muslims appeasement. The JD(U) and Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, however, lay the blame on the BJP’s door alleging that the incidents are part of its strategy to consolidate the “Hindu vote”.

Whatever may be the motive, records show that most of these cases were defused just before they erupted into large-scale violence. “We have been lucky,” said a senior police officer in the Police Headquarters. “Any one could have snowballed into a riot with deaths and arson.”

boharAn analysis of the surge and its geography also reveals interesting patterns:

* A majority of the communal incidents since June 2013 — 418 or 62.6% — were recorded in 24 districts where the Muslim population is below the state average of 16.5%. This, JD(U) leaders claim, shows that the BJP is working to polarise the community and, thereby, consolidate the Hindu vote.

* In these 24 districts in the last Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won 22 seats. In the previous elections, when it contested as a partner of JD(U), it won 12 seats across Bihar out of 15 it contested by itself. Three seats out of the 12 won by the BJP in 2009 — Katihar, Araria and Purnea — have the highest concentration of Muslims in the state, 43%, 41% and 37% respectively, and also fall in a belt that shows the lowest number of communal incidents in June 2013-June 2015. In the 2014 election, these seats were won by RJD, NCP and JD(U).

* In fact, the BJP bagged 18 seats and its allies won four seats out of the 23 seats where more than 70% of the communal incidents are concentrated.

* The communal incidents are spreading: Four districts, Munger, Supaul, Madhepura and Lakhisarai, which saw zero incidents from January 2010- June 2013, witnessed more than five incidents a year in June 2013 and June 2015 — a total of 39. In 19 districts that recorded fewer than three incidents in January 2010- June 2013, more than 10 incidents were recorded in the following two years during June 2013- June 15.

* An indicator of how polarised the community is, is evident in the manner in which seemingly trivial incidents — including “eve teasing”, cricket match dispute — acquire a communal colour after a flare-up. An analysis of police records shows that there were 92 trivial incidents in the three-and-a-half years between January 2010 and June 18, 2013, and it went up to 427 in the following two years between June 2013 and June 2015. During the same period, January 2010-June 18, 2013, 19 incidents of eve-teasing acquired communal colour. But, in the following two years till June 2015, eve-teasing became the basis of 145 communal clashes.

Says JD(U) president Sharad Yadav: “The elections will be held around Durga Puja and Muharram, we may see a harvesting season of communal violence. This is what made us break our ties with the BJP because we realised they want to plant seeds of partition again.”

This is propaganda, says BJP’s Bihar chief and former deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi. Asked to comment on the police data on “communal incidents”, Sushil Modi said that these showed that the government has lost its grip over the state.

“It has nothing to do with the break-up. Basically, what has happened after the split is that the present government has lost control over the police administration. The normal crime rate has also gone up, so it is not just communal incidents,” Modi told The Indian Express.

“After the alliance break-up, Nitish Kumar has devoted himself to political management. So the major reason for the rise in communal incidents is a lack of governance,” he said.

On the ground, meanwhile, none of the nearly 100 police officers of various ranks, starting from those in charge of local stations, that The Indian Express met during this investigation agreed to speak on record, while state DGP P K Thakur did not respond to requests seeking comment.

But many admitted privately that what was really worrying them was how some districts, such as Jehanabad, Rohtas, Saran, Nalanda, Gopalganj and Aurangabad, which recorded stray communal incidents in 2010-12, saw a spike after the BJP-JD(U) split.

Of these, Jehanabad is the political bastion of Jitan Ram Manjhi, the Mahadalit leader, a former JD(U) chief minister and now a BJP ally. Between June 25 and 27 this year, Jehanabad, where 18.95% of the population are Dalit — the state average is 15.72% — witnessed its first major communal riot. Saran in Chhapra is the bastion of of RJD chief Lalu Prasad; and Nalanda of Nitish Kumar. And this is where The Indian Express focused on in the first part of this investigation.

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