Since the Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United) government severed ties with its 17 year-old ally Bharatiya Janata Party, Bihar has witnessed nearly five notable incidents of communal violence — Khagaria, Bettiah, Nawada, two cases in Jamui — with the police and administration pointing to political underpinnings.
A complete curfew was clamped in the town of Nawada in Nawada district, which saw fresh tension on Monday. Here, the tension began last Saturday over the issue of the menu at a ‘dhaba’ (roadside eatery) and escalated into a full-fledged communal clash, Nawada district magistrate Adesh Titarmare told The Hindu .
Members of one community wanted non-vegetarian food, but the dhaba owner declined to serve it, citing religious reasons. Angered by this, the community members ransacked the dhaba. Just when things got under control, on Monday morning at 11 am, one community opened fire at another, claiming one life and injuring several others.
A youth from one group was killed in the firing on Monday. On Saturday, one person from the opposite community had died in the incident, taking the total official toll in the Nawada incident to two people.
However, according to an unofficial source, a native of the town, the toll could be higher.
With the volatile situation refusing to calm down, around 700 armed personnel and two companies of the Rapid Action Force have been deployed in Nawada, Mr. Titarmare said.
“This is all a conspiracy. Everything was planned to disturb the peace”, an official told The Hindu . Asked if this could have been the handiwork of a political party, done with a view to polarise votes, the official agreed.
Earlier, on Sunday, the town of Bettiah in West Champaran district, witnessed a major communal flare-up.
Members of an ‘akhada’ (martial arts group) took out a procession in the town on the occasion of ‘Mahaviri Jhanda’, which is a local tradition. When it reached the Jora Innar locality, which has a mixed settlement, stone-pelting began. There are multiple versions about the exact trigger.
Muzaffarpur Inspector General of Police Pankaj Darad said that according to one version, some boys from the area wanted to join the rally, but were prevented from doing so. This caused a few from the locality to throw stones, resulting in a riot. According to another version, a member from the procession dealt a blow with a lathi to a boy from the locality. In yet another version, it is believed that two akhada processions crossed their path near the locality and some anti-social elements took advantage of the situation to create tension.
However, a local Bettiah journalist said over the phone that lathi-wielding aggressive participants were carrying “provocative cartoons. They refused to remove it, and when they were crossing the area, angry members of the other community began pelting stones”.
When the district magistrate and the superintendent went there to control the situation, their vehicles were burnt, ‘shocking’ the administration. An “oral” curfew under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code was clamped in Bettiah. The situation returned to normal by Monday.
“Nawada and Bettiah are both BJP strongholds. Plus, neither of these places have a chronic communal problem. The triggers in these cases have been small”, a police officer said. The spurt in such cases is also seen as an attempt to mobilise people for Narendra Modi’s rally in Patna in October.
Another source added that the split between the JD (U) and the BJP had led to a spurt in these incidents, with both parties seeking to ‘polarise’ votes on religious basis. “There is a pattern to these incidents and they are happening at a great frequency. Another aspect of the current law and order incidents is that the police are coming under attack. This never used to happen before”, he said.
Nearly 39 applications for prosecution of people involved in past communal violence incidents under Section 153 and its allied rioting sub-sections are pending for sanction with the Home Department and 15 are with the Law Department. Since many of these cases are old, several culprits have not been prosecuted for their acts.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar while assuring strict action against the perpetrators of the Nawada incident has appealed to all the communities to maintain peace and not believe in rumours.
(With inputs from Prashant Jha)