NEW DELHI (AFP) - Indian police said on Wednesday (March 22) they were not ruling out arson after fire gutted three butcher shops in Uttar Pradesh state, where a firebrand Hindu leader has taken office promising a crackdown on slaughterhouses.
The meat industry is a magnet for religious violence in India, where Hindus consider cows sacred and accusations of beef being sold by Muslims can trigger violent mob reprisals.
Police were investigating the "mysterious" overnight blaze that reduced the three butcher shops to ashes in Hathras district, local police chief Dilip Kumar told AFP.
"We are not ruling out anything," he said.
The fire comes just days after a hardline Hindu priest-turned-politician took control of Uttar Pradesh, India's largest state with a bloody history of violence between Hindus and Muslims.
Yogi Adityanath is known for his polarising and inflammatory speeches against Muslims, and has railed for harsher penalties for the slaughter of cows, which is already illegal in most Indian states.
He was chosen to lead Uttar Pradesh after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party swept state polls earlier this month, in part on a pledge to clampdown on slaughterhouses.
Since the thumping election victory, dozens of butcher shops deemed illegal by the government have been sealed off across the state in what authorities say is a crackdown on unlicensed traders.
Most butcher shops are run by Muslims and cow slaughter is a flashpoint issue. A 50-year-old Muslim man was dragged from his home in 2015 and beaten to death by roughly 100 people over rumours he ate beef. Police later said it was mutton.