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Insight: As election nears, religious tensions surge in an Indian village

NAYABANS, India (Reuters) – Nayabans isn’t remarkable as northern Indian villages go. Sugar cane grows in surrounding fields, women carry animal feed in bullock carts through narrow lanes, people chatter outside a store, and cows loiter.

But this week, the village in Uttar Pradesh state became a symbol of the deepening communal divide in India as some Hindu men from the area complained they had seen a group of Muslims slaughtering cows in a mango orchard a couple of miles away.

That infuriated Hindus, who regard the cow as a sacred animal. Anger against Muslims turned into outrage that police had not stopped an illegal practise, and a Hindu mob blocked a highway, threw stones, burned vehicles and eventually two people were shot and killed – including a police officer.

The events throw a spotlight on the religious strains in places like Nayabans since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power at the national level in 2014 and in Uttar Pradesh in 2017. Tensions are ratcheting up ahead of the next general election, due to be held by May.

The BJP said it was “bizarre” to assume the party would benefit from any religious disharmony, dismissing suggestions that its supporters were largely responsible for the tensions.

“In a large country like India nobody can ensure that nothing will go wrong, but it’s our responsibility to maintain law and order and we understand that,” party spokesman Gopal Krishna Agarwal said. “But people are trying to politicise these issues.”

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DylanThomas

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