Politics looms large in India riots that kill 31Reuters . Lucknow
India’s political parties blamed each other for religious riots that killed at least 31 people and forced hundreds to flee from their homes on the weekend, in a sign of rising tension between Hindus and Muslims ahead of a general election due by May.
The police evacuated both Hindus and Muslim villagers on Monday in the district of Muzaffarnagar, 127 km northeast of New Delhi in the state of Uttar Pradesh and at the epicentre of some of the worst communal violence in years.
Others, fearful after attackers beat children and burned property, hid in fields and police stations, or fled in ox carts and tractors on Sunday. The state’s top security official RM Srivastava said 31 people were killed in the violence.
‘We are on a high alert and curfew will remain in parts of Muzaffarnagar city, while security forces are doing regular rounds in the affected villages,’ deputy police chief Arun Kumar said.
Violence pitting Muslims against Hindus has been a defining feature of Indian politics since the country’s traumatic separation from Pakistan in 1947, when hundreds of thousands of people were killed and millions were displaced.
Religion and caste violence plays a central role in politics in Uttar Pradesh, one of India’s poorest states with a population larger than that of Russia. Fanning the tension often brings political gain to parties that claim to protect different religious and caste groups from one another.
Professor Sudha Pai, an expert on Uttar Pradesh politics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, said the Jat Hindu caste community in Muzaffarnagar that was involved in the weekend violence did not have a history of tension with Muslims.
‘On the whole, these communities have lived side by side. This has been fomented. There is no doubt about it,’ Pai said.
Several politicians including a national cabinet minister and a senior opposition leader tried to reach Muzaffarnagar on Monday but were detained by police who said their presence could stir up more violence.
The home minister, Sushilkumar Shinde, said 451 cases of communal violence were registered in the first eight months of this year in India, up from 410 in the whole of 2012. He said tensions were expected to escalate in the build-up to elections.
The situation had calmed down by Monday thanks to a big mobilisation of police and soldiers, officials said. Hundreds of soldiers patrolled otherwise deserted streets in Muzaffarnagar, the main town in the district where the fighting took place.
Shinde accused the Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Akhilesh Yadav, of failing to heed warnings before the weekend, and said the state government was not doing enough to stop such incidents.
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