The issue of growing communal violence in the agenda

Jolted by the recent burst of communal violence in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar district that has left 48 persons dead, hundreds injured and thousands displaced, the Centre has called a meeting of the National Integration Council (NIC) here for September 23.

This will follow a visit to the trouble-torn district on Monday by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who heads the 148-member NIC: after making an on-the-spot assessment, he is expected to discuss what more the Centre can do to help Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav bring peace back to the State. Thus far, the Centre has sanctioned monetary compensation for the families of the dead and the injured, and extended whatever help was sought.

The Centre has taken a dim view of the manner in which the State government has handled the situation: phone calls from Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth to Chief Secretary Jawed Usmani and advisories from the Union Home Ministry to the U.P. government when tension was building up apparently had little impact.

The NIC, on which all political parties are represented, will be meeting after two years. In a press note it noted “with concern the increase in communal incidents in different parts of the country over the last few years.” While placing its faith in “the vast majority…, irrespective of their religious affiliations, [who] live in peace and harmony and have no interest in violence and disorders,” it stresses that “the task is not of the governments alone although the governments have to play a major role in strengthening the forces of integration and in implementing expeditiously and effectively the recommendations that this Council makes.”

Clearly, the growing communal violence not just in U.P. but also in other States such as Bihar and Rajasthan will be the focus of the meeting, given the belief in the UPA government — backed by intelligence inputs — that the BJP will bring back the Hindutva issue on its agenda in the run-up not just to Assembly polls in five States later this year, but the general elections in 2014.

In U.P., if the Akhilesh Yadav government demonstrated its ineptitude, reports suggest that the BJP and RSS affiliates such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad have also been stoking tension. And now with the ascendancy of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, the government’s fears on this score have only increased.

At the last meeting in September 2011, there were four items on the agenda — communal violence, discrimination against minorities, Dalits and tribals, civil disturbances and the radicalisation of youth in the name of religion and caste.

The UPA government had, on that occasion, sought to forge a consensus on a Communal Violence Bill, but the BJP had shot it down.