It has taken a voice of humanity to call out the manufactured nature of the political blame game around the communal clashes over Ram Navami processions in West Bengal and Bihar . In Asansol , the imam of a mosque who lost his teenage son to the clashes this week announced that should anyone carry out a retaliatory attack, he would leave town. At least four persons have died in the Raniganj-Asansol belt in West Bengal’s Paschim Bardhaman district after a procession turned violent. The area remains tense, Internet services are limited and prohibitory orders are in place. It is a shame that a sitting Union Minister, Babul Supriyo, who represents Asansol in the Lok Sabha, not just tried to defy the local administration, but also uttered inflammatory comments. Accounts about what ignited the clashes vary, and it would be best to await the findings of the official inquiry. But it is a reason for disquiet that ‘religious’ processions are becoming a pretext to force communal polarisation in many States. In Rajasthan’s Jodhpur district, a tableau was taken out on Ram Navami glorifying Shambhu Lal Raigar, currently in jail for hacking a man to death and videographing the violence along with an anti-Muslim rant. In Bhagalpur in Bihar this month, a religious procession organised by Sangh Parivar groups provoked communal clashes — there is an FIR against Arijit Shashwat, son of Union Minister Ashwini Choubey, for inciting violence. After Ram Navami, communal tension has spread to more areas of the State, including Aurangabad, Samastipur and Nawada.
In all such situations, the responsibility of isolating areas and causes of violence and tension is best assigned to the local administration, instead of State-level and national politicians weighing in. However, the violence suggests a pattern that is worrying. While the Raniganj-Asansol industrial belt is surprising territory for such clashes, the number of incidents of communal violence in West Bengal has increased sharply over the past three years. The violence in Bihar comes soon after the setback to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in the recent by-elections, with some party leaders giving the result a sectarian spin. Across swathes of north India, daily interactions between the majority and minority communities have been rendered fraught with the probability of violence. The majoritarian persuasion is carried out at the grassroots level, but the Sangh Parivar cannot plead plausible deniability. In this context, the increasingly assertive Ram Navami and other religious processions are drawing new fault lines. As the air gets politically charged in the lead-up to the 2019 general elections, the burden on the law and order machinery becomes that much more heavy — to pursue every incident of violence and incitement in order to limit its potential to be used for further polarisation.