Religious processions and festivals with strong political overtones and messages are fanning communal tensions in Bihar and the rest of India. In view of a marked rise in this trend, Bihar has decided to increase anti-riots battalions in each of its districts, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said at the meeting of National Integration Council in New Delhi on Monday.

“The number, frequency and magnitude of religious processions are also generally increasing. These are sometimes given innovative names like ‘yatra’ or ‘parikrama’, taken out anytime of the year, and over a larger area. This is unwarranted. Religion, which is largely a private affair practised inside closed premises of homes or places of worship, is more and more becoming occasions for public show of strength-displaying lethal weapons, beating of loud music and unruly mob behaviour on the streets. Any attempt to regulate or control such behaviour is taken as interference into religious freedom and communal passions are stirred,” Mr. Kumar said.

He referred to the recent communal clash in Bettiah town, where “offensive tableaus based on political satire over Minority vs. Majority issues were displayed in a religious procession.” “The event has been recorded and photographed to irrefutably prove that a religious occasion was misused to stoke communal passions among the people. Serious communal clash erupted in the town shortly afterwards,” he said.

Given a festival season, Mr. Kumar requested the Centre to provide central armed police like Rapid Action Force and Central Reserve Police Force for Bihar. In the wake of the Muzaffarnagar riots, he called for a united fight against “forces [that] fan the fire of communal tensions in order to polarise the situation in their favour.”

“All political parties have a crucial role in this scenario. A multi-party democracy invariably leads to competitive politics aimed at cornering a larger share of votes. But we must ask whether it should necessarily lead to passionate persuasion of a divisive agenda?” Mr. Kumar asked.