Ramachandra Guha’s article, “Politicians and pluralism” (Sept 7), coincided with the breaking out of the Muzaffarnagar riots, which sparked off another debate on communalism. One may largely agree with Guha that the “extended period of social peace was broken in 1963 by riots in Jabalpur and in Rourkela. For the next 20 years, many towns in north and central India witnessed sectarian strife between Hindus and Muslims. Each of these incidents was discrete, unconnected to any other.”
However, it can be said that the post-1963 riots were connected among themselves in some ways. They did not remain confined to the Indo-Gangetic plains or the old Hyderabad state, but to many upcoming industrial centres. Few of them had much history of such social strife.
Places such as Jamshedpur, Ranchi and Hazaribagh, like Rourkela and Jabalpur, are either industrial or mining centres. Communal tension started brewing in the tribal heartland of India. Unlike before 1963, this tension, especially during Ramnavami, became an annual feature.
Nothing exemplifies this phenomenon better than the riots in the industrial hub, Jamshedpur, in 1964 and 1979. Though a large number of Hindus and Muslims from other parts of India moved to these industrial centres in the highlands of central India, it was the largely displaced tribal populations that found themselves in opposition to the Muslims.
Industrialization caused discontentment among the tribal people, as many of them were not adequately compensated. This was a big opportunity for politicians to exploit this sense of deprivation to achieve certain political goals. What is ironic is that the Muslim population was not very well off. Those who migrated after industrialization — and those living in the villages for centuries — were mostly lower-level employees, miners and petty traders.
What needs to be studied is why this saffronized tribal belt turned into a red bastion in post-liberalized India. But this development does not suggest that the influence of Hindutva has diminished. Sometimes people mistook Maoist violence for communal activity. The killing of a large number of Muslim farmers in sporadic incidents by Maoists in the Palamu belt (now in Jharkhand) during the Ramjanmabhoomi movement is a pointer to this fact.
But then in the post-1963 years, communal riots took place elsewhere too. Calcutta (1964), Ahmedabad (between 1969 and 2002) as well as Aligarh, Moradabad, Meerut and Bhiwandi were rocked by violence. All these places were known for their small and cottage industries.
A large section of the Muslim population worked in these industries. Bhiwandi, near Mumbai, known for the highest number of powerlooms in India, witnessed riots in 1960, 1965, 1970 and 1984. Later, during the Ramjanmabhoomi movement, the town of Bhagalpur and commercial centres like Mumbai and Surat were devastated by communal violence.
There were periods of relative peace in some parts of India. The Muslim-Jat political alliance in western Uttar Pradesh in the 1960s and 1970s, and also the Muslim, Ahir (Yadav), Jat, Gujjar and Rajput alliance — popularly known as the Majgar alliance — during the era of the former prime minister, V.P. Singh, helped bring peace.
As per this formula, there usually was peace among communities voting for the same party. But if communal tensions broke out, they would often find themselves pitted against one another.
In contrast, Bengal maintained relative peace on the communal front after 1964. This is so notwithstanding the fact that it felt the impact of Partition and still has a sizeable Muslim population.