Saharanpur riots give rise to reports of political motivations

29 July-2014, GORDON FAIRCLOUGH and NIHARIKA MANDHANA: Clashes between members of different religious communities are a dishearteningly common problem in India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh.

Saharanpur riots give rise to reports of political motivations

Saharanpur riots give rise to reports of political motivations

A group of protesters burned tires during a protest against the Uttar Pradesh state government in Jammu on July 27. They were protesting against clashes between two communities in Saharanpur. Associated Press

The latest – riots involving Sikhs and Muslims set off by a dispute over a piece of land near a Sikh gurudwara in the city of Saharanpur – resulted in three deaths, curfews and shoot-on-sight orders to police this weekend.

Sikhs and Muslims, who say the plot was once the site of a mosque, both claim ownership of the land in question. Violence erupted after Sikhs started building on the land, N. Ravinder, a deputy inspector general of police in Saharanpur said. The property dispute is before the courts, he said.

Mr. Ravinder said police have arrested 35 people so far in connection with clashes. Extra police and paramilitary forces have been deployed to prevent another outbreak of violence and, Mr. Ravinder said, “to restore normalcy.”

For Uttar Pradesh, normalcy is often tenuous. Last September, 60 people died in Hindu-Muslim clashes in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar. More than 50,000 Muslim families fled their villages in the aftermath.

In a 2013 interview with India Real Time, the state’s chief minister, Akhilesh Yadav, said that Uttar Pradesh is prone to religious violence. In another earlier this year, he accused politicians of fueling tensions and trying to capitalize on them electorally.

“Anything that happens, politics will happen over it. Any issue will be seen through the lens of whether votes will increase or decrease,” Mr. Yadav said.

Political conspiracies swirled in Indian media on Monday. A report in the Times of India quoted leaders of political parties blaming each other for the violence. A senior politician with Mr. Yadav’s Samajwadi Party blamed Hindu nationalists.

Local officials of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has Hindu nationalist roots and won a landslide victory in national elections in May, said Pakistan’s military intelligence agency was behind the incident.

The Indian Express newspaper quoted a Saharanpur man as saying he thought most of the violence was committed by people from outside Saharanpur. The paper quoted a local member of parliament as saying “I feel all this happening because bypolls are approaching.”

Voters in a small number of constituencies in Uttar Pradesh are expected to go to the polls in coming months to choose members of parliament and also members of the state assembly.