In 2017, when Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar broke his alliance with the RJD and Congress to join hands with foe-turned-friend-turned-foe, the BJP, he cited his desire to provide sushaasan — good governance. That the latest stint of NDA rule has witnessed the largest number of incidents of communal tension over at least the last five years puts a question mark on the law and order situation in the state, as well as the axes along which a member of the ruling alliance plays out its politics on the street.
According to official records accessed by this newspaper, there have been 200 incidents with communal overtones since July 2017, and 64 in 2018 alone. The more high-profile among these present a disturbing picture of deliberate attempts at political polarisation and social intimidation. In Araria, after the RJD candidate’s victory in the Lok Sabha by-election in March, allegedly fake videos of Muslim youth shouting purportedly “anti-India” slogans were widely circulated. Taking out “religious” processions, often with participants brandishing weapons, through Muslim residential areas seems to be another common occurrence.
Communal incidents have been reported from Munger, Bhagalpur, Aurangabad, Samastipur, Shekhpura, Nawada and Nalanda. BJP leader and Union minister Ashwini Kumar’s son, Ajit Shaswat, has been remanded to judicial custody for his alleged role in an incident Bhagalpur district, in which several people including policemen were injured.
In its first two terms, the NDA government headed by Nitish Kumar focussed on governance, with pro-poor programmes as its defining feature. That narrative is increasingly falling by the wayside. Going by its own figures, the state government seems to be failing at ensuring peace and calm. Ram Navami processions this year have been marked by communal tension. Nitish Kumar will have to address the mismatch between promise and reality if he is to deliver on the development agenda he campaigned on.
For the BJP, the pre-eminent party in the country and part of the ruling alliance in Bihar, it is important that it reprimand and take strong action against party members who attempt political mobilisation on grounds that are against the letter and spirit of the Constitution. It is important that the parties in government realise that “sabka vikas” is only possible with “sabka saath”.