A police station up in flames, a thousand-strong violent mob and widespread vandalisation in West Bengal’s Malda district earlier this month has ignited a new political controversy in the state that is due to go to the polls in a few months.
The scenes of destruction and ransacking in Malda’s Kaliachak have led to allegations that fake currency, fundamentalism and even terror networks are festering in the state, triggering communal polarisation.
“All of these are giving BJP a political space in the state. The Left Front which is tying for resurgence will lose some opposition vote share to BJP. This in turn will help Mamata Banerjee in the polls,” said Shibaji Pratim Basu, a political analyst.
“The party also returned into the limelight during the recent statewide law violation programmes when its leaders, including national ones, were injured in clashes with the police,” added Basu.
The BJP has sensed the opportunity and is repeatedly attacking the Trinamool Congress.
“This is an instance of the CM’s vote bank politics. The police station was set on fire to destroy records of miscreants dealing with fake currency and narcotics,” said Sidharth Nath Singh, BJP national secretary.
On Monday, a central BJP delegation on its way to Kaliachak was stopped at the Malda railway station by police and forced to board a train back to Kolkata. Union road transport and shipping minister, Nitin Gadkari, is also likely to visit the area – around 350 km from Kolkata -- on January 18 to address a rally.
Experts feel the Kaliachak incident is part of a string of at least six communal clashes in the state that have gone unnoticed in the past two years. In May, three Dalit people lost their lives in a clash in Nadia district.
“It is a dangerous game being played out before the polls by Mamata Banerjee and BJP leaders. Trinamool Congress is allowing fundamentalists to gain ground in Bengal. While the RSS and BJP are stoking communal fire, the latter is hoping for polarisation,” Md Salim, a CPI-M politburo member and Lok Sabha MP, told HT from Harishchandrapur, Malda.
Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has already dubbed the Kaliachak incident as a confrontation between villagers and the BSF, denying the incident had any communal colour. She also said the situation in Bengal is under control.
However, opposition parties beg to differ. “This is the tip of an iceberg. The poison has spread not only in bordering areas but also deep inside Bengal,” said Manas Bhuniya, former state Congress president.
“The chief minister, IGs and DIGs are sitting quiet. They are waiting for such incidents to happen. Why is the CM not working with government agencies like NIA and crack down on the mischievous elements?” asked Bhuniya, the six-time MLA.
Trinamool Congress, on the other hand, has blamed the BJP-RSS combine for trying to fan communal tensions.
“This was a ‘criminal issue’ but the BJP/RSS, as is their strategy, tried to turn it into a ‘communal issue’. They did this by trending hashtags on Twitter, sharing year-old photographs and posting irresponsible tweets with the help of their social media army,” said Derek O’ Brien, Trinamool spokesperson.