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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

On edge

Contenders for Bihar must know that religious polarisation will jeopardise hard-won gains and yield diminishing returns.

By: Express News Service |
Updated: August 26, 2015 12:08:41 am
Muzaffarnagar riots, bihar polls, bihar elections, elections in bihar, bihar assembly polls, bihar news, patna news, india news FILE | A refugee boy selling balloons as Muslim refugees from Muzaffarnagar offer prayers. (Source: Express photo)

The large-scale communal conflagration has not revisited India since the early 1990s, with the major exception of Gujarat 2002 and, to an extent, Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh 2013. But the slow simmer of communal conflict, which is defused before it erupts into a full-fledged riot, is still with us. An Indian Express investigation has found that this sapping phenomenon is on the rise in poll-bound Bihar since the break-up of the ruling JD(U)-BJP alliance in June 2013. An examination of police records from the state’s 38 districts and a journey criss-crossing the 18 districts that account for more than 70 per cent of these “communal incidents” have revealed a three-fold surge — from 226 between January 2010 and

June 2013 to 667 between June 2013 and June 2015. An incident of eve-teasing, a minor road accident, a cricket match between two local teams, a dispute over a kite or a theft of a buffalo is increasingly likely to become the trigger for a clash between communities in areas where deliberate attempts have also been made earlier to stoke communal
faultlines — by dumping carcasses of pigs and pieces of beef inside places of worship, defacing idols, tweaking procession routes and exhuming old disputes over the use of common land.

The BJP in Bihar insists that the rise in such incidents is only a part of a general slackening of grip of the Nitish Kumar administration on law and order after he broke ties with it. Kumar has been preoccupied with “political management” ever since, at the cost of governance, is the BJP’s claim. The JD(U) points to these incidents as evidence of a BJP design to polarise communities in time for the impending electoral test. Beyond the finger-pointing, however, both parties need to pause and assess the fallout of religious polarisation in today’s Bihar. For the BJP, which registered significant gains in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, winning 18 out of the 23 seats where more than 70 per cent of the communal incidents are concentrated, the benefits promised by the consolidation of the “Hindu vote” will have to be weighed alongside the perils of the undermining of the larger promise that propelled the “Modi wave” in 2014. It was made up of a mix of secular possibilities — of jobs, of better governance, of change — that blurred the lines between communities, even while drawing upon the cleavages between them. For Kumar, too, a nurturing of the “development” constituency has helped draw in the wider support that mere appeal to caste arithmetic could not.

A return of communalism in Bihar will not just jeopardise the hard-won gains in a state where the fervent identity politics of old is being smudged and overtaken by newer political mobilisations of rising aspirations in an increasingly young electorate. It will also have diminishing returns for the “communal” and “secular” players, both of whom have benefited, in different ways, from the politics of polarisation in the past.

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