There’s a dismal pattern to the communal violence that erupted, across states, on the occasion of Ram Navami last Sunday. These were some of the shared features: A religious procession, sometimes armed; provocative slogan and song; stone-pelting; viral videos, from both sides, that inflamed by what they showed and what they hid; delayed or inadequate or partisan police response; curfew. From Karauli in Rajasthan to Khargone in MP, from Khambhat and Himmatnagar in Gujarat to the Baina area of Vasco in Goa, from Howrah’s Shibpur in West Bengal to Lohardaga in Jharkhand — the anatomy of violence was similar. Violent conflict also broke out on campus in the capital’s Jawaharlal Nehru University between two groups of students, one alleging muscle-flexing over non-vegetarian food and the other blaming it on obstruction of a religious ritual. These incidents were reported from states ruled by the BJP as well as by the Congress, TMC and JMM. It is the job of each state government to ensure that those who break the law are held to account. Yet, as the party that rules the larger number of states and the Centre, and that is seen to embolden the majoritarian assertion that underlies this flaring of tensions, whoever may cast the first stone, the BJP must pause and consider if this is where it wants to go.
In BJP-ruled Karnataka, which has seen the same simmering, and where controversy has broken out on the hijab, Muslim traders in temple areas, and halal meat, one of the BJP’s own has now sounded the alarm. BS Yediyurappa advised Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai on Monday to “put an end to all this (divisive politics) and focus on the job at hand”. It may have been easy for the BJP to dismiss the concern when Biocon founder Kiran Mazumdar Shaw articulated it recently — she urged the Karnataka CM to resolve the “growing religious divide” lest it should hurt the state’s leading position in the technology and biotech sectors — but it will hopefully heed the voice within. Surely, the party that has proved its electoral dominance has the political room to acknowledge that the festering unease framed by incidents such as those on Ram Navami undercuts “good governance”. The BJP must see the growing dissonance in a nation that is, on the one hand, rallying its resources to emerge from the Covid shadow through a successful vaccination programme and by shoring up the slow stirrings in the economy, and on the other, carrying the cross of a constant vulnerability to tensions between communities rising to the surface, disrupting the peace.
Admittedly, conflict between majority and minority has not been created by the BJP — it has a longer life and several complicities. It is also true that in a shrill discourse saturated, and polluted, by social media images and posts, it’s easier to hurt than to heal. And yet, it is clear that the BJP, by its words and silences, especially in government, provides political support to those who would deepen the divides. The party has made a long journey — from the margins to the centre of the polity. To build on its success, it must now own its moment of reckoning: A constant simmer between communities may keep the political pot boiling but when it spills over, the cost of violence and mistrust is too high. For, there’s no real progress without a settled peace.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on April 13, 2022 under the title ‘A constant simmer’.