On Monday, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav said he had sought the opinion of officials in Muzaffarnagar on whether the police should withdraw cases against Muslims who allegedly made hate speeches inciting riots in the district in September.

In response, the Bharatiya Janata Party asked Uttar Pradesh Governor BL Joshi to urge the government to close cases against 4,000 Hindu rioters, including four BJP MLAs accused of encouraging rioters. They accused Yadav of playing up to minority politics.

This is a lethal idea, as is obvious to anyone who has observed the aftermath of communal riots in India over the past decades. From the Sikh riots of 1984 to the Gujarat riots of 2002, the absence of justice for riot victims has created a deep sense of frustration -- sometimes with disastrous consequences.

The failure to prosecute the organisers of riots is among  the main reasons for the growth of terrorism in India, noted a recent report by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.  "According to police and intelligence officials, almost every arrested militant they interrogated mentioned the Babri mosque, Gujarat riots, or both as a major motivator," said  ‘Jihadist Violence: The Indian Threat’. 

Not surprisingly, the Indian Express reported on Tuesday that operatives of the Lashkar-e-Toiba terror group allegedly visited Muzaffarnagar, though the Delhi police said that they attempted to recruit residents and not riot victims.

The Muzaffarnagar riots resulted in the deaths of 46 Muslims and 16 Hindus.

A special investigation team has accused 6,000 people of participating in the violence, of whom only 294 have been arrested so far.

On December 20, UP special secretary Rangnath Pandey had written to the superintendent of police and the public prosecutor of Muzaffarnagar district, asking if cases against Muslims accused of making inflammatory speeches could be withdrawn in the public interest. Congress and Bahujan Samajwadi Party MLAs are among the accused mentioned in the letter.

Chief minister Akhilesh Yadav clarified on Tuesday that his government had only asked about closing wrongful cases. “Seeking information does not mean withdrawal of cases,” he said.

The BJP angrily replied a few hours later that the police was terrorising 4,000 people against whom reports had been filed and that if Yadav exonerated only Muslims, more communal violence would follow.

This is not the first time politicians have attempted to delay justice for riot victims.

Thirty years after approximately 2,000 Sikhs were massacred in Delhi in attacks that followed the assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, senior Congress leaders accused of instigating violence have yet to be sentenced.

Though senior Congress leaders Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar were seen leading rioting mobs, their trials are still proceeding.

In 2009, the CBI filed a closure report against Tytler saying there was no evidence against him. But a trial court overturned this decision in April 2013, and the Delhi high court confirmed the order in November.

Kumar was acquitted in April 2013, but the CBI filed an appeal against this verdict in August.

In Mumbai eight years later, very few convictions have followed the 1992-1993 riots that left 575 Muslims and 275 Hindus dead and which involved the targetted destruction of vast amounts of property owned by Muslims. The Srikrishna Commission that inquired into the violence blamed several members of the Shiv Sena and senior police officials for their role in the violence.

However, 100 people -- the vast majority of them Muslim -- have been sentenced to life imprisonment for organising retaliatory bomb blasts in Mumbai after the riots.

Similarly in Gujarat, Muslims accused of setting fire to the Sabarmati Express in Godhra in 2002 have been sentenced, even as scores of cases against Hindu rioters are still pending in the courts.

Politicians have used communal riots as an easy way to polarise voters, but as Mumbai and Gujarat demonstrate, the consequences are disastrous. Yadav is unlikely to regain the confidence of Muslim voters just because he exonerates prominent leaders months after so many lives were lost.