Delhi riots offer a warning
The Delhi riots have shown the fragility of inter-community ties in India at the moment. What happened in the north-eastern part of the city was sparked off by local events, but also against a backdrop of the overall political and social polarisation that has gripped the country in the wake of the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), the decision to embark on a revised National Population of Register (NPR), and the speculation over a possible National Register of Citizens (NRC). But even as it is essential to get to the root of the Delhi violence, and hold the guilty to account, it is a warning that the current mood can translate into trouble elsewhere.
This is particularly true of three states which will witness assembly elections over the next year-and-a-half. Bihar goes to polls first at the end of 2020. While there has been no outbreak of violence in the state so far, it has had a history of inter-community tensions. There is intense opposition to the CAA-NPR-NRC package, reflected in the massive rallies held in Muslim-dominated areas of Seemanchal, in the response to Communist Party of India’s young leader, Kanhaiya Kumar’s tour across the state, and in the Bihar assembly’s resolution that calls for a return to the NPR under the old format. The more worrying situation is, however, in West Bengal, home to over 25% Muslims and the epicentre of a fierce political battle between the incumbent, Mamata Banerjee, and the challenger, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Indeed, many believe that the CAA was brought in primarily with an eye on state elections here. The state also has a history of political violence, with weak rule of law. Both the BJP and Trinamool Congress have to walk the extra mile in calming tempers — though all signs are that as polls approach, the competition will get more shrill and possibly violent. The third state is Assam, which goes to polls next year too, and is where the entire issue actually emerged. The flawed NRC process in the state has already caused great disenchantment, with 1.9 million people staring at an uncertain future; the CAA has led to an upsurge in Assamese sub-nationalism; and relations between Assamese Hindus and Bengali-speaking Muslims are tense.
Delhi has shown the perils of inflammatory political rhetoric, especially from BJP leaders before polls; the partisan role and incompetence of the police; and the dangerous use of social media. Patna, Kolkata and Guwahati would be well advised to nip the brewing tensions before they escalate.