Uttar Pradesh police detained dozens of BJP members on Monday for several hours to stop them from entering the tense Karhal town, days after sectarian violence bubbled up in the area amid cow-slaughter rumours.
Angry residents clashed with security personnel and shops and vehicles were torched last week following reports that two butchers had killed a cow, highlighting simmering communal tensions in the state that deepened two weeks ago when a Muslim man was lynched by a Hindu mob in Greater Noida’s Bisada village.
The 60 people detained on Monday were part of a BJP delegation that was headed to the town to protest police action, with the party saying its members were being needlessly dragged into the row and authorities from SP-ruled Uttar Pradesh were arresting innocents.
“The BJP had nothing do with the violence that took place. Yet, party men are being harassed and Rakesh Chandel, the city unit president of BJP, was arrested for no fault of his own,” said Alok Gupta, the party’s district unit chief.
Apart from arresting several people linked to the violence, police also took the two butchers into custody though it emerged that they were skinning a cow that was already dead.
The subject of cow slaughter has pushed deeper a wedge between Hindus and Muslims in the state, particularly after the murder last month of 55-year-old Mohammad Ikhlaq by his neighbours who suspected he had butchered a calf and consumed beef.
Security was also tightened in Sultanpur district a day after tension gripped the area’s Newada village, about 150km from state capital Lucknow, when an irate mob protested near the local police station following rumours of cow killing.
The incidents have emerged at a time when panchayat polls are being held in Uttar Pradesh and assembly elections in neighbouring Bihar, raising concerns about communal polarisation and security.
Cow slaughter and beef trade have come into sharp focus since the BJP took power at the Centre last year, as minority groups have been protesting against attempts by right-wing organisations to push for a nationwide ban.