After a brief lull following the August-September 2013 bloodbath in western Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar district, communal violence is stalking the state again — this time two eastern districts, Ambedkar Nagar and Bahraich.
Worse still, people aware of UP dynamics fear communal unrest will continue till the Lok Sabha elections.
The latest flare-up had an apparently trivial trigger, an accident between a cycle and a motorbike in Tanda town of Ambedkar Nagar on Thursday evening.
The people involved in the accident were from different communities and the spat blew up into a full-fledged pitched battle. A dozen shops and 13 houses were set on fire at night. Rioters even fired at the police. By Friday, tension engulfed the town and a large police contingent was on guard.
On Wednesday, communal unrest had hit Nanpara area of Bahraich district. Rioters from two communities attacked houses and places of worship.
A large numbers of people fled their houses in Mahorwa village of the district. Fearing the violence might spread to rural areas of Bahraich and neighbouring Shravasti district, the state government rushed 4 battalions of Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) to the area.
Senior police officers are now camping in the area.
The two incidents of violence, apparently isolated, are not so, admit police officials in the two districts.
“Tension has been prevailing in Ambedkar Nagar and Bahraich since a month. Members of one community or another have been objecting to organisation of festive processions and have even protested on roads,” said a police official who did not want to be named.
The Samajwadi Party government too is aware of the underlying tension. A state home department official who declined to be named said a central intelligence agency report had warned communal tension was simmering in 45 of the 75 districts in the state.
“Though peace moves are on, not enough effort is being made to encourage direct and regular interactions between different communities to ensure harmony,” said the official.
Social scientist Sanjay Kumar saw two reasons for the rise in communal clashes. “The subtle moves by political parties to polarise society on caste and communal lines ahead of the Lok Sabha elections and deployment of officers on similar considerations are to blame.”
Kumar said, “This was hurting the state’s social fabric as well as administration.”
He warned UP may have to bear the brunt of more clashes till the elections. UP is India’s most populous and politically key state. It has 80 Lok Sabha seats, the highest among states.
Former UP director general of police Sri Ram Arun said the state would need to address the sensitive issue in totality. “The police will have to rework strategy to deal with communal elements. The administration will have to identify reasons and nip it in the bud.”
Asked why the police had been unable to check communal violence in Ambedkar Nagar and Bahraich, additional director general of police (Law and Order) Mukul Goel said there was need to strengthen the intelligence network. “Even trifling matters should be attended and disputes resolved with earnest.”
Socialist Party member and Magsaysay awardee Sandeep Pandey said a big problem was people were deeply suspicious at this point in time.
“After the communal violence in various districts, the state government constituted committees to probe into the clashes but the report of the committees were put on the back burner. This makes people suspicious, as they think the state government is trying to hide facts or protect certain people”.
Uttar Pradesh has been worst-hit by communal unrest in the last two years. In 2012, it accounted for every third death in the country in communal clashes.
According to a Union home ministry report, 104 cases of communal tension and violence were reported in UP in 2012. At least 34 people were killed and 456 injured.
The violence in Muzaffarnagar, which claimed 61 lives and forced more than 50,000 to flee their homes, and more than 40 other communal clashes hit the state in 2013.