Many skeptics of the BJP point towards their dubious attitude on secularism and the risk they pose to the social fabric of the country. Is this true? Do the numbers back this up? Today, I look at state-wise instances of communal violence between 2010-2013. I also look at the number of people killed and injured to test the intensity of each of these riots. All data was obtained from this reply to a question in the Lok Sabha. Graph 1 looks at the instances of communal violence, Graph 2 plots the number of people killed and Graph 3 looks at the number injured in these instances.
Finally, I talk about the importance of these numbers and why we should be paying attention to them.
Let’s be clear, the country’s communal record under any government is a cause for shame. The states experiencing most violence (across all 3 graphs) seem to be UP, MP, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Karnataka. I must say, I was surprised by how high Maharashtra ranked. 3 of these states were largely ruled by the BJP from 2010-2013: MP, Gujarat and Karnataka (Karnataka saw a shift from BJP to INC in May 2013). Maharashtra is ruled by a coalition of the INC and the NCP; whereas UP has alternated between the SP and BSP. Once we account for population though, Maharashtra and UP drop out of the equation. This data on casualties per million puts MP, Gujarat and Karnataka at the top.
I suspect that these figures reflect a little bit of a chicken and egg problem. States which are more communally intolerant are probably more likely to elect the BJP to power. Pre-existing conditions might account for communal violence and not all the blame can be placed at the feet of the current government. At the same time, the state government’s policies and sympathies must play a part in polarizing the situation and in its response to communal violence.
Why is it important to look at these figures? After all, if we elect a communal government to power can we blame them if communal violence breaks out under them? Every government official who assumes power, assumes a duty to protect everyone in their district/sate/country, irrespective of personal biases and policies. Vajpayee termed this as rajdharma. This is the essence of minority protection and equal rights. And both these concepts are central to the Indian Constitution. We each have the right to hold our own opinions but we also have the right to state protection from violence. Continued violence under certain governments implies they are not carrying out this duty. This undermines the constitutional promise that India makes to its citizens. And as citizens, we must be worried.
Caveat: The deaths from the Assam violence has not been included in this data. It is unclear why this has not been classified as communal violence. Apart from this, the data would seem fairly consistent in documenting communal violence in the country. Data in 2013 is till the month of October.