Fivefold increase in communal incidents marks run-up to Assam polls

  • Appu Esthose Suresh, Hindustan Times, Dhubri
  • Updated: Mar 27, 2016 08:03 IST
BJP’s CM candidate Sarbananda Sonowal gifts PM Modi a traditional Assamese mask in an election rally. Sonowal (eft) blames the increase in number of communal incidents on the Congress and the AIUDF. (Ujjal Deb / HT Photo)

Orchestrated communal violence emerged as the common denominator in political calculations ahead of recent state elections and the upcoming Assam polls appear no different as the number of such incidents has shown a fivefold surge over the previous election year.

A Hindustan Times analysis of police records over the past five years revealed a pattern of low-key communal incidents in Assam. Each such incident recorded by the local police station was classified as “communal”.

In 2011, when assembly polls were last held, the number of such incidents reported in the state was 17. By 2013, the frequency picked up and in 2015 Assam saw 70 incidents of communal violence.

The BJP’s chief ministerial candidate and Union sports minister Sarbananda Sonowal blames the trend on the Congress and the AIUDF led by Badaruddin Ajmal.

“Congress has been deliberately stoking violence since the 1980s. These incidents are desperate attempts by the Congress and the AIUDF to benefit from polarisation. BJP has been very sensitive in dealing with these incidents,” Sonowal said.

HT analysed low-key communal violence in Hindi heartland states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh for the same period to place these incidents in a pan-Indian context. Consider the similarities: the rise in communal incidents in both Bihar and Assam happened during the same time (August 2013), beef politics is the new byword for communal polarisation, and the common motive is to provoke Hindu religious sentiments.

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In Bihar, 70% such incidents took place in Hindu-dominated regions. All instances of communal violence in Assam have also occurred in urban pockets, where Hindus form the majority. Not a single incident was reported from rural Assam.

“Most of the critical conflicts in Assam and the northeast are rooted in land-driven identity and social or economic issues -- who controls land, uses it as a mobilising tool and a political issue. It was never about religion,” said Sanjoy Hazarika, a journalist who has covered the region for four decades and director of the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research, Jamia Millia University.

Pieces of forbidden meat have regularly found their way to places of worship. Resurfacing of beef politics combined with existing ethnic rivalries and festering issues of illegal immigration have left the state primed for communal violence.

“I can’t say who is behind these incidents unless I have full facts in front of me,” Congress MP Gaurav Gogoi said. “But clearly the pattern across the country is for everyone to see. Love jihad became an issue before Uttar Pradesh by-polls, churches were vandalised before Delhi elections and cow slaughter became an issue before Bihar. And, of course, there are attempts to polarise Assamese society.”

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