A United States intelligence report has warned of a likely increase in communal violence in the run-up to the General Elections in India if the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party “stresses Hindu nationalist themes”.

“BJP policies during [Narendra] Modi’s first term have deepened communal tensions in some BJP-governed states, and Hindu nationalist state leaders might view a Hindu-nationalist campaign as a signal to incite low-level violence to animate their supporters,” the Worldwide Threat Assessment report said.

The report said an increase in communal clashes could alienate Muslims and “allow Islamist terrorist groups in India to expand their influence”.

Director of US Intelligence Daniel Coats tabled the annual report in the US Congress on Tuesday. He also deposed before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“The challenges facing South Asian states will grow in 2019 because of Afghanistan’s presidential election in mid-July and the Taliban’s large-scale attacks, Pakistan’s recalcitrance in dealing with militant groups, and Indian elections that risk communal violence,” the report added.

On India-Pakistan relations, the report said that cross-border terrorism, firing across the Line of Control, “divisive national elections” in India, and Pakistan’s perception of its position with the US relative to US will contribute to ties remaining strained through the elections and maybe even beyond.

The report warned that militant groups supported by Pakistan “will continue to take advantage of their safe haven” in the country to “plan and conduct attacks in India and Afghanistan, including against US interests”.

It also said that ties between India and China will remain tense due to the border standoff in Doklam region in 2017. “Misperceptions of military movements or construction might result in tensions escalating into armed conflict,” the report said.

The report added that the development in nuclear weapons programmes in India and Pakistan increase the risk of a nuclear incident in South Asia.