Violence broke out in the north-eastern province of Assam last week, leading to the deaths of thirty four people. India has witnessed several communal riots since partition. In August last year in fact, a Hindu-Muslim clash in the Muzaffarnagar district of Uttar Pradesh broke out, where sixty two Muslims died in what was described as “the worst violence in Uttar Pradesh in recent history.” Still, the intensity and frequency of the violence has generally declined in the last ten years, after the Gujarat riots which killed about 2000 Muslims.

In Western Assam, aggression is common against Muslims who live beside the Bodo tribe near the borders of Bangladesh and the Himalayan foothills of Bhutan. Bodo militants claim these Muslims are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh who have taken over their ancestral lands. Most of these Muslims say they are born and bred in India; some from even before partition.

Narendra Modi, the frontrunner from the BJP, wasted no time in cashing in on the incident, and reiterated in a speech that these “infiltrators” (read: Muslims in Assam) should keep their “bags packed.” So much for the BJP being secular as per its manifesto. The document calls India the “natural home” of the Hindus and fiercely opposes illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, many of them in India before 1947.

The current government has been called a “Muslim appeaser” but was unable to end communalism. If they were unable to truly curb the stereotyping and alienation of Muslims and minorities, then how will a party that rides on a wave of popularity from a mainly Hindu electorate, react to violence against minorities? And above all, why has India not devised a mechanism with an efficient legal/political response to these communal riots? Where will the accountability come from? Is this a systemic or political failure in twenty-first century secular, democratic India? And does Modi’s speech forewarn of worse times to come?