A squabble about a betting game took on a communal tone in the East Delhi locality of Trilokpuri on Saturday, resulting in Hindu and Muslim groups hurling stones at each other. Though the violence ended in 30 minutes with the arrival of a police team, the neighbourhood was still tense two days later.

The residents had good reason to be anxious. They have not forgotten what happened here on Diwali in October 2014, when a small fight near a makeshift temple snowballed into religious riots that left over 50 people injured and resulted in curfew being imposed for over a week. Last April, there was another clash between Hindus and Muslims, this time over a parking dispute.

But even before that, Trilokpuri had a reputation as a tinderbox, having witnessed the massacre of over 300 Sikhs during the riots in 1984.

On Saturday, the trouble broke out at a traffic intersection in Block 32, an area inhabited by Hindu and Muslim families in near-equal proportion, with a mosque, a market and a government school in the vicinity.

“The incident occurred late in the evening over a petty loan between two groups that were gambling,” said a police official deployed at the site. “Since it is a sensitive area, more than one company of police personnel was sent there immediately. Though the situation is under control, the vigil will continue at least till Muharram.”

Exaggerating reality

A few residents cautioned against calling incidents such as the one on Saturday a communal clash, saying these were disputes blown out of proportion.

“Over the past two years, some people who claim to be members of Hindutva groups have constantly been trying to manufacture communal tension in the area,” said Riyazuddin Saifi, treasurer of the Hindu-Muslim-Sikh-Isai Ekta Committee, a neighbourhood peace group formed in 2013.

He added: “On Saturday too, a group set up a makeshift stage and started reading the Hanuman Chalisa aloud at the same time evening prayers were on at the nearby mosque. Hours later, the incident [clashes] took place.”

Thakur Uttam Singh, a resident of Block 32 and a member of another peace committee in the area, said, “Such trivial incidents are blown out of proportion by a few unemployed youth who do not want to earn a decent living.”

He added: “They played a prominent role in the 2014 riots too. Some of them were detained by the police and later released. But even now, they continue with this old business.”

On Monday evening, residents organised a programme for peace at which the deputy police commissioner, assistant police commissioner and station house officer of the area were the chief guests. One of the speakers alleged a political hand in the incidents.

“These riot mongers do not have the education or the will to hold a decent job,” said Naseer Ahmad, a septuagenarian and the senior-most member of the Hindu-Muslim-Sikh-Isai Ekta Committee. "They are goons who keep doing things to impress political leaders of a certain ideology, who in turn make mileage from such incidents."

The riots two years ago took place in the run-up to Assembly elections in Delhi. The latest incident comes with elections in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh a few months away.

“The incident in 2014 did help the Bharatiya Janata Party,” claimed Saifi. “Though they [BJP] could not beat the Kejriwal wave, they were the Aam Aadmi Party’s closest rival in this constituency, beating the Congress by several thousand votes.”

Builder mafia

Residents of Trilokpuri also suspect there is a politician-builder nexus at work, capitalising on tension between Hindus and Muslims, who comprise 28%-30% of the area’s population of over 80,000.

“After the 2014 riots, several Muslim families sold off their property and left the colony,” said Babu Ali, founder of the newly formed peace group Sadbhavna Manch. “Since then, property rates in Trilokpuri have dropped year after year. Prices are still going down, largely owing to reports of communal disputes, though incidents of Muslims leaving have gone down but not stopped.”

Residents said murmurs of a builder mafia creating communal trouble emerged during and after the 2014 riots too but no concrete evidence of it was found.

According to Ali, with property prices set to take off again since the under-construction Metro station near Trilokpuri is nearing completion, “there is no reason not to suspect the involvement of a builder mafia in such politically motivated events that turn things to their favour”.

Peace politics

In the two years since the communal riots in 2014, Trilokpuri has also seen the emergence of several peace groups – not necessarily for the better.

“A large number of committees have come up in these two years but they are nowhere visible when it comes to groundwork,” said Riyazuddin Saifi of the Hindu-Muslim-Sikh-Isai Ekta Committee.

Fellow member Naseer Ahmad nodded in agreement. “The authorities must do background checks before approving such committees,” he said. “Many of those who have formed peace committees now were actively involved in the 2014 riot.”

Residents said there was competition among these groups, as a result of which many of them had ended up becoming negotiators between the police and parties with vested interests.

“It is true,” admitted Babu Ali of Sadbhavna Manch. “Had the peace committees been genuine and worked hard on ensuring unity among residents, such incidents would not have happened time and again.”