Despite our secular Constitution, broad religious representation in various aspects of society, including the government, active role played by autonomous bodies like the National Human Rights Commission and National Commission for Minorities, and the work being done on the ground by NGOs, sporadic and sometimes serious acts of religious violence tend to occur in India as their root causes often run deep in the country’s history, religious activities and politics.
Since the landslide victory of the Narendra Modi-led BJP in the 2014 parliamentary elections, the political discourse in India has assumed a dangerously partisan character. Modi baiters, who had opposed him during the heated election campaigns of 2014 and continued to do so in subsequent electoral battles, are bent upon crafting a doctrine that the rise of the BJP has led to increase in the culture of intolerance and incidents of communal violence.
The issue has been complicated by discrepancies in data on communal violence collected by the human rights division of the home ministry and the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) that works under it.
Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju informed the Lok Sabha that 2014 had witnessed 644 communal incidents which had risen to 650 in 2015. Figures released by the NCRB, however, show that there were 1,227 communal incidents in 2014. This figure enabled the Opposition to challenge Rijiju’s claim.
The home ministry periodically collates data on communal violence by asking states to furnish details, and also based on Intelligence Bureau reports. But the NCRB relies on FIRs lodged at various police stations in a state, and categorises offences according to relevant IPC sections invoked in the cases. 2014 was the first time that the NCRB put out data on incidents of communal violence.
A new element to the statistical warfare has been added by the statewide figures released by the home minister in Parliament, according to which 52 per cent of communal violence cases occurred in non-BJP ruled states. Since law and order is a state subject, the political stripe of the party in power in a state is as relevant, if not more than, as the party in power at the Centre when looking at law and order disturbances.
Statistics do not always tell the whole story, but the available data on communal violence tells a sobering tale. The first unmistakable inference is that Uttar Pradesh—which has not been ruled by the BJP for the last two decades—has the dubious distinction of leading these statistics in absolute numbers. Its share of the total is 18 per cent, 30 per cent and 20 per cent respectively in the last three years.
Given that UP accounts for approximately one-fifth of India’s population, you would expect communal incidents in the state to be in accordance with its population share. In 2012 and 2014, that was indeed the case. Only 2013, the year in which widespread communal violence took place in Muzaffarnagar, its share was much higher.
Other states in 2014 that exhibit a greater share of communal violence than their populace would suggest, besides UP, include Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. Of these, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have long-standing BJP rule, Karnataka is Congress-ruled, while both Maharashtra and Rajasthan lately switched from Congress to BJP-led governments. Given this data, it’s impossible for a fair-minded person to assert that there’s a greater communal violence in either BJP- or Congress-ruled states.
Even more egregious are the claims that communal violence linked with cow slaughter or other flash points represent something new since the election of the Modi government. There is a long history of communal violence in UP and elsewhere since the mid-19th century when British colonial rulers stoked tension between Hindus and Muslims over cow slaughter as part of their wider divide-and-rule strategy. Surely, communal violence needs to be curbed. But this can’t be done by looking at it with tinted glasses of partisan politics.
Vajpeyi is a freelance journalist and media consultant