Nearly 150 people have been killed in sectarian violence in the country in the last three months — roughly one-eighth of the toll of the 2002 Gujarat carnage which left 1,200 people dead.
More than the number of casualties, what makes this season of hate dangerous is its geographical spread — across eight major states. And, the fact that it will continue into election season — over the next two months Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, and then Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir will go to the polls.
The general elections are due early next year. The tension is simmering and prolonged and, but with no rows of bodies, which would have embarrassed the perpetrators.
The Opposition BJP and mentor Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) have raised the pitch on several policy initiatives of the ruling Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), particularly the ones such as the Sachar committee report that calls for affirmative action for Muslims and Ranganath Mishra commission which favours reservation benefits for Dalits who have embraced Christianity or Islam.
In the first week of November 2007, the RSS national executive in Dharward in Karnataka passed resolutions opposing both the reports. A resolution also asked the Hindu Dalits and tribals to oppose the government’s moves and offered support.
During Christmas, the first round of violence broke out in Kandhamal in Orissa and the area is yet to see peace. A demand by Dalit Panos — who are mostly Christians — that they be counted as tribals has been a point of conflict with Kandh tribals, after whom the district is named.
Tribals get reservation benefits irrespective of religion and the Kandhs don’t want to share the benefits with the Panos.
Recurring incidents of terrorist violence driven by Islamism, has allowed the Sangh Parivar to keep its Hindutva agenda alive in a subtle and veiled fashion. Repeated references to terrorism – though as a governance issue — tremendously helped the BJP to come to power in Gujarat and Karnataka.
The idea of an “enemy within” has been strengthened by “jihadis” and the failure of the Congress and allies to effectively tackle it, both at political and governance levels.
When the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley erupted in protest against a move to hand over a piece of land for facilities for pilgrims to Amaranth shrine in August, it strengthened the rhetoric.
Controlled friction, without rows of bodies, over a large area will keep the Congress — accused of facilitating illegal migration in Assam and pampering Muslims from Kashmir to Bangalore — on the defensive. The reason why this season could be too long for comfort.