A FEW DAYS BEFORE THE GENERAL ELECTION results were announced in May, a crowded commercial area in Meerut erupted in violence. There were broken heads and gunshots; a young man died. Shops were looted and burnt. The ostensible cause was a long-standing dispute over a small well to which a mosque and a temple both laid claim. Several police companies were deployed, and a relatively peaceful equilibrium restored. But since then, by one count, there have been thirty cases of communal conflict in Meerut, and a total of over six hundred across Uttar Pradesh.
This represents a significant upsurge in communal strife in the state—ranging from public disputes to full-on rioting. Although the overall intensification has been widely remarked upon, the dynamics of such conflicts are changing in ways that have not been fully acknowledged. While recent incidents follow many of the patterns of earlier periods of communal violence, they also exhibit new characteristics that test many popular explanations for what is driving the discord in Uttar Pradesh.
Political violence, of which communal violence is one kind, is endemic in India. In the last decade, fifty thousand to eighty thousand cases of rioting and unlawful assembly (with various causes) were recorded each year. Even by these standards, six hundred cases of communal conflict in Uttar Pradesh in just two months suggests that the systems that keep communal conflicts simmering and generate riots are now working overtime. In 2013, by comparison, there were only 247 officially recorded incidents of communal violence in Uttar Pradesh, including last year’s well-publicised outbreaks in the rural areas of Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts.