Police laxity to blame for clash in Bihar town

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RAF jawans patrolling to enforce curfew after violence erupted in Nawada, Bihar
RAF jawans patrolling to enforce curfew after violence erupted in Nawada, Bihar

Patna: Just what happened in Bihar’s Nawada district last weekend? Situated a little over 100 km to the south of Patna, the state capital, the city of Nawada (Population: 102,000) saw mindless violence starting the night of the Muslim festival of Eid on Friday, 9 August, between Hindus and Muslims. But the blame for the death of a city resident, Kundan Rajak, in police firing on Saturday lies entirely with the uniformed force. Even more perplexing is the fact that the police had been napping even though sectarian tensions had been building up for a month in the district.

At least four minor, but potentially explosive incidents of communal violence involving followers of the two religions had occurred over the preceding four weeks. In one such incident on 19 July, miscreants trespassed a Muslim graveyard in a village in the district and planted a flag there, triggering anger in members of the minority community there. Barely had that situation been controlled that three days later, on 22 July, a Hindu ritual spot adjoining a graveyard in another part of the district was attacked and damaged. This enraged the Hindus of the area and a clash was reported.

And yet, the district administration was clueless when on Friday night sectarian violence broke out after a group of Muslim men allegedly refused to pay up after eating food at a dhaba, a street food corner, and beat up the dhaba owner, a Hindu. When the police arrived on the scene, a full-scale clash between rival groups of the two communities had already resulted. Even that should have woken up the administration.

Tensions ran high again on Sunday when Kundan’s dead body was brought back to the city from Patna, where it had been taken for a post-mortem. Angry mobs raised slogans of “Narendra Modi zindabad” and “Nitish Kumar murdabad”, betraying the deeply political colour the violence had by then taken. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has all but blamed the BJP for the violence. His aides allege that the BJP, which was until two months ago a partner in Kumar’s coalition government, wants to polarize the state’s voters along religious lines ahead of next year’s Lok Sabha elections so as to attract the Hindu votes.

Kumar’s aides point out that no communal violence had taken place in the district between 2005 when Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) and the BJP jointly took power in the state and two months ago, when they ended that partnership after the BJP put Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in charge of leading its campaign in next year’s General Election. Kumar’s aides cite Modi’s hard-line image as a sectarian Hindu — built on the massacre of some 2,000 Muslims 11 years ago in Gujarat by right-wing Hindu mobs linked to the BJP — as proof that Modi is looking to polarize votes by communalising the society. Of course, the BJP angrily denies the charge and instead blames Kumar for ineffective policing and slow reflexes.

The violence has given a chance to former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, who is a bitter foe to both Kumar and the BJP, to bounce back in the evening news. Expectedly, Yadav slammed both the government and the BJP for the violence. However, questions are also being raised about a possible involvement of troublemakers linked with Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), which ruled Bihar for 15 years before spectacularly losing power to the JD(U)-BJP in 2005.

Meanwhile, the police continue to make a mess of the situation instead of being smart about it. On Monday, a police sniper who was out on patrol to enforce the curfew, shot and injured a city lawyer who was standing on the terrace of his house. As such, members of both communities are now angry with the police and the administration. Also on Monday, another man, around 19 years old, was slain, reportedly in a crossfire. Matching the ineptness of the police has been the inexplicably indifferent behaviour of the Lok Sabha MP Bhola Singh, a BJP leader. Instead of rushing to the troubled spots in the city and a district and deploying his agency to calm the rage across the divide, Singh chose to head out to cut the ribbon to inaugurate a new building elsewhere in the district.

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