Tension prevailed near a Kali temple in a dark lane in Assam’s Sonaribari town on Feb 20, as the residents and police suspiciously follow every movement. The sleepy town is on edge after somebody threw chunks of suspected beef into the 60-year-old temple.
As Assam gears up for the upcoming election, the incidents of communal tension points out hat Hindutva politics have made a quiet entry in the state.
It wasn’t the first incident, but the third attempt in two years to vandalise the temple. “These days, it’s scary. Though we know these incidents are the handiwork of vested interests, it is enough to put the Sonaribari on fire. By the time sense prevails, the damage is done,” said Chandan Pal, a shop owner in Nagaon district’s Sonaribari.
After the incidents, the Religious strains between Hindus and Muslims have increased in Assam in four years, with tensions spiking in the run-up to April’s assembly elections.
Muslims account for 34.2% of the state’s population, but right-wing Hindu organizations point to their growing numbers to provoke thoughts that they might become a dominant group.
Hindustan Times’ analysis of police data from Assam’s 27 districts over the past five years found that beef politics is behind the growing tension.
A police officer in Assam, who did not want to be named, told HT that using meat to vandalise temples is a new trend. Local residents agree. “These are mischievous incidents, maybe because the elections are around. But we have to live together,” said Dibangkar Roy Karmakar of Badarpur town in Karimganj district.
“Whoever is attempting to polarise Assamese society on the basis of such incidents is trying to introduce a virus,” said Sanjoy Hazarika, a journalist and academic who has covered the northeast and Assam for four decades.
Right-wing Hindu organizations protested the beef throwing in Assam between 2013 and 2015. But the issue was missing from the political discourse before the Assam election following the BJP’s defeat in Bihar, where the party went to the polls with a tough stand on cow slaughter.
But beef politics gained little traction in Assam. The party is going to the polls with an aggressive stand against illegal Muslim immigration from Bangladesh as it looks to overthrow the 15-year-old Congress government.