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Return of the repressed

PM sounds a note of caution: communal tensions simmer close to the surface in many states

Written by The Indian Express |
September 10, 2012 3:37:08 am

PM sounds a note of caution: communal tensions simmer close to the surface in many states

Addressing a conference of senior police officers,the prime minister spoke of the disturbing return of communal tension in many parts of India. He spoke of how social media can present new dilemmas for law enforcement,as recently experienced with the dangerous rumours that brewed after the Assam conflict and were circulated around the country at a speed that could not be matched by the police and administration. He flagged five states in particular as having developed an uncomfortable communal dynamic — Uttar Pradesh,Madhya Pradesh,Maharashtra,Karnataka and Kerala. These are not states with a common social composition or political regime. And yet,the deterioration of social ties is visible in each,with the competition between communities having taken on a menacing edge.

The PM offered some caution to those who have been lulled into thinking that the better angels of our nature have triumphed. It is true,of course,that a politics of aspiration has tempered the kind of communal relations that previously exploded in violence. Since Gujarat 2002,we have not witnessed large-scale devastation of life and property. Communal tensions are more likely to be played out in terms of a subtle discrimination and denial of opportunity. But the PM’s words are a reminder that such tensions can still be stoked into a spectre in our supposedly mixed-up towns — as the exodus of frightened northeastern Indians from Bangalore,Pune etc proved. The PM exhorted the police to stay on high alert,and seek active cooperation from the community. There needs to be a more sensitive and proactive monitoring of potential conflict,starting with a vigilant force of beat constables.

It must be remembered that virtually no actual violence took place in these places,but a sense of threat and vulnerability was made manifest. Mutual interdependence between communities moderates religious extremism and violence,and the imperative is to focus on a web of civic associations and economic exchanges that can make all the difference for state officials trying to maintain the calm. Tackling communal conflict demands that both state and society focus on defusing threats. The larger project,then,is about breaking cycles of suspicion and hostility between communities.

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