It is time the government took stock of the social reality and initiate steps to regenerate a happier state of affairs.
It was the more volatile elements among the country’s dalits that called for a Bharat Bandh on April 2 (for the first time in history), and the upper castes exacted revenge on Tuesday, exactly eight days after, signalling a downward push to social equilibrium and harmony. The communal situation in parts of India, meaning the unease created by right-wing political elements between majority Hindus and the minorities — mainly Muslims — is already undesirably brittle.
It is time that the government took stock of this social reality and initiate active steps to regenerate a happier state of affairs. In the absence of this, any national cause is bound to suffer and any national purpose will be difficult to nurture — and this includes a return to a restored and stable economic trajectory, which has been elusive for the past two years.
Fortunately, the Union home ministry learnt a lesson from its lackadaisical approach to the April 2 bandh call when state governments were caught napping in the face of violence that erupted in various parts of the country on that occasion, leading to a dozen deaths. To meet the challenge of the Tuesday Bharat Bandh, the Centre sent out advisories to the state governments, making it explicit that district magistrates and superintendents of police would be held personally responsible if the situation got out of hand in within their jurisdiction.
Thus, the handling was much better. That is reassuring. At least no deaths were caused in the pretty intense violence that erupted in some places, especially in Bihar. The scene in Bihar was especially grim on Tuesday, but while Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh remained tense, the situation was reasonably well contained.
No political party or caste outfit claimed authorship for the bandh call of the upper caste elements. It appears that all the mobilisation occurred through the social media, which by now seems to be fast turning into a platform that can incite violence with ease. Except for cutting off the Internet for a limited period, as they do frequently in Kashmir, it is not clear how the authorities can cope with this menace.
Even with the Centre showing alertness, we should keep in mind that in addition to the state police, Rajasthan had to deploy the BSF and the CRPF to deal with the bandh call of the upper castes.
The dalit groups had struck in response to the dilution of the law that deals with atrocities against the SC/ST communities. The upper castes mobilised themselves against reservations in education and jobs in retaliation — and retaliation it was. The action of both sides seems not unrelated to shrinking economic opportunities for young people in recent times and the sense of injustice rising.