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Indian authorities moved to reimpose order after deadly sectarian violence this week reached the outskirts of New Delhi’s premier business hub, forcing businesses to put staff on alert and raising fears of further unrest ahead of national elections next year.

Gurugram, located west of Delhi in India’s Haryana state, is one of the capital’s biggest satellite cities and houses offices for leading domestic and foreign companies including Google, Meta, and Hyundai. Nicknamed “Millennium City”, the area, previously named Gurgaon, is also home to some of the country’s priciest apartments and villas. 

Violence broke out on Monday in Nuh, a small city south of Gurugram, where a Hindu religious procession passed through a Muslim-dominated neighbourhood. Clashes spread to nearby districts, including Gurugram, where a mob set fire to a mosque and according to local media killed its deputy imam. Rioters also torched shops in a mostly Muslim working-class part of the city, alarming residents.

“Bombay is the financial centre, but as far as many Indian corporates go, Gurgaon is the centre,” said Shumita Deveshwar, chief India economist at GlobalData TS Lombard, who lives and works in the city. “To see communal violence happening in an area that’s 15 to 30 minutes away from the business district is disconcerting.” 

Authorities imposed a temporary internet blackout and curfew in parts of Haryana on Monday and arrested more than 100 people, and as of Wednesday afternoon the clashes appeared to have subsided. Some companies advised staff to stay at home while shops remain closed amid fears of the unrest stretching into a third day.

Control Risks, a consultancy, said businesses “could experience some operational disruption arising from internet shutdowns and the imposition of curfews”, but noted that security forces had mostly brought the unrest under control and corporate offices were not being targeted, so “drastic action” was not merited.

“Company employees are the ones arguably most exposed to personal safety risks, particularly on their commutes, and could be targeted based on their visible identification with a particular community,” the consultancy said. “Some companies have therefore asked employees to work at home.”

Google declined to comment. Meta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Communal tensions have been escalating in the lead-up to national elections next year in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party is seeking a third term. Modi government critics and opponents have accused it of degrading civil liberties and weakening democratic institutions as it has promoted the country’s Hindu majority over India’s many minority groups.

Meanwhile, in Manipur in the country’s north-east, violence between the state’s mostly Hindu Meitei majority ethnic group and the Christian Kuki minority since May has claimed more than 180 lives. 

Earlier on Monday, a railway security guard shot and killed a senior colleague and three Muslim passengers on a train that was pulling into Mumbai, an incident that further stoked tensions.

Officials said the suspect, who was arrested, had been suffering from stress, but activists claimed a political climate of tolerance for hate crimes had contributed to the killings.

A video circulated online that showed the man wielding a gun and saying, “If you want to live in India . . . here are only two men, [Narendra] Modi and Yogi [Adityanath]”, the latter a firebrand Hindu cleric and Modi ally who is the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh state.

In Nuh, where police said mobs threw stones and burnt vehicles, tensions had been aggravated by rumours that a Hindu extremist wanted by police in connection with the killing of two Muslim men in February was among the marchers.

Meenakshi Ganguly, deputy-director for Asia with Human Rights Watch, said the breakdown of order “should worry investors that trust that governance will be fair, with functioning institutions that act as checks in a democracy”.

Senior opposition figure Rahul Gandhi wrote in a post on Elon Musk’s X, formerly known as Twitter: “The BJP, the media and the forces standing with them have spread the kerosene of hatred across the country.”

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