Communal riots: New challenge for Nitish Kumar (Bihar Newsletter)
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is a worried man these days. He can no longer claim a communal violence-free state as one of the achievements of his nearly eight-year rule.
This follows Hindu-Muslim clashes in Nawada town last week and early this week that claimed two lives and left nearly a dozen people injured, leading to the imposition of curfew.
This was evident when he appealed to the people at the state-level Independence Day function Thursday to maintain "communal harmony". He also expressed his serious concern over the clashes in Nawada, 150 km from Patna, which erupted Friday after an altercation over the menu between a group of kanwarias (Hindu pilgrims) and a Muslim group at a roadside eatery.
Till last month, Nitish Kumar used to take pride in the fact that Bihar remained free from communal tension and no riots had taken place during his tenure. It was one of the USPs of his government along with improved law and order, development and high growth rate.
Nitish Kumar, without naming any political party, has said that the clashes in Nawada and earlier in Bettiah in West Champaran, Khagaria and other places were a result of attempts to defame and distabilise his government.
The violence, he maintained, was a sensitive issue and charges and counter-charges should be avoided.
"Why is it that communal clashes suddenly occurred only after JD-U dumped the (coalition partner) BJP (on June 16)? The state had remained free from communal clashes since November 2005 till June this year. It is a matter that has raised eyebrows," said JD-U spokesperson Neeraj Kumar, who is considered close to Nitish Kumar.
Social activist Naiyar Fatmi said that Nitish Kumar's problems lay in the fact that after the JD-U's alliance with the BJP split, the state has witnessed at least 16 communal clashes, including the Nawada violence.
"Nitish Kumar and his government are bound to be in trouble if they fail to check this. Communal clashes not only give the state a bad name, they also erode the JD-U social support base at a time when Lok Sabha polls are due next year and state assembly polls in 2015," Fatmi pointed out.
Left activist Anish Ankur said that never since the 1989 Bhagalpur riots was the atmosphere as vitiated as now. Even at the time of the Babri Masjid's demolition in 1992, people, cutting across community lines, were confident that the state government would not allow the violence to go out of hand.
"The threat and fear of communal incidents is on the rise among the people, particularly the minority community. The Nitish Kumar government has to be alert and must act tough against troublemakers and those conspiring to provoke communal riots," Anish added. Muslims constitute 16.5 percent of Bihar's 105 million population.
Taking serious notice of what happened in Nawada, Nitish Kumar immediately directed top police officers to use full force to contain the situation. It resulted in the situation soon improving and curfew has been relaxed since Wednesday.
He said the state government was keeping a close watch on developments in Nawada and Bettiah and that the police would find out if it was a pre-planned attempt to create social tension or not.
Officials suspect that two local leaders, involved in illegal stone quarrying in the district, were inciting "communal hatred" as part of business rivalry, a police officer said, adding that the National Security Act would be invoked for preventive detentions and swift action against troublemakers.
Nitish Kumar seems to have got over the immediate crisis for now but will surely be keeping his fingers crossed that there are no major flare-ups ahead of the parliamentary and assembly polls.
(Imran Khan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 17-08-2013)