The faultline in West Bengal: It’s locals versus outsiders

  • Debjyoti Chakraborty, Hindustan Times, Kolkata
  • Updated: Mar 03, 2016 11:32 IST
Vehicles set on fire after clashes between two groups at Kaliachak police station in Malda on Sunday, January 3, 2016. Both CPI(M) and BJP think it was Mamata Banerjee’s administration and Trinamool men who allowed, if not staged, the rioting at Kaliachak in which BSF men were assaulted and their vehicle was set afire. (PTI)

Sajjad Ali, 50, a farmer and Ashim Das, 46, a policeman —both names changed —look different, dress differently and speak in different accents. But they have a common thread —Kaliachak, a small hamlet about 23 km southwest of Malda, a border district of West Bengal.

On January 3, a mob from a rally held by little known Idara-e-Shariya and Anjuman Ahle Sunnatul Jamat attacked a civilian car first and then went on the rampage in Kaliachak. Even BSF men were assaulted and their vehicles set on fire.

It looked like a mob-versus-the-BSF fight — as chief minister Mamata Banerjee later claimed it to be — till the mob rushed to the local police station, assaulted the policemen on duty and set fire to the building, destroying, among other things, important intelligence documents.

The ‘why’ seems interesting. The January 3 rally was organised to protest an anti-Prophet statement by a UP-based Hindu leader on December 3, 2015. The ‘who’ is even more tantalising. No one knew anything about the organisers besides a mobile phone number. It was switched off immediately after the incident. The mob just vanished.

In fact, the Indo-Bangladesh border has become — according to state police intelligence and the National Investigation Agency — extremely sensitive because of fake currency rackets, human trafficking, small arms smuggling, poppy cultivation and infiltration.

Sajjad, who came to meet this reporter in a neighbouring district, admitted he was also involved in poppy cultivation since it got him high returns.

He said, “From the middle of 2012, outsiders – mostly from across the border — started settling in the area and bought land using fake names and addresses. They took over the poppy business and organised the other rackets. The locals got involved for money, but the bosses were always outsiders.”

What struck Sajjad and his neighbours from the beginning is the radical religious and political stance of the newcomers. “They came. They settled. And immediately after that, exclusive mosques came up everywhere. We were never welcome there.”

Das, who was transferred out of Kaliachak after the incident, chipped in: “On the day of the incident, we were informally told not to stop the mob.” Who issued the order, even if it was over the phone? Das refused to reveal.

The BJP’s lone MLA in Bengal, Samik Bhattacharya, who was detained while trying to enter the area just after the incident, said, “The police were told to be friendly with the mob. Obviously, there’s a police-TMC-criminal nexus.”

Das denied this, but delivered the final piece of the puzzle: “Among the documents burnt were intelligence reports on the background of the people running the rackets. The incident happened three days before the reports were supposed to be sent to the district intelligence officer.”

Both the CPI(M) and the BJP think it was Banerjee’s administration and party men who allowed, if not staged, the rioting. Mohammed Salim, CPI(M) politburo member, said several TMC men—all close to Banerjee — had been acting as a bridge between two most radicalised sections of the Muslim community.

He said Urdu-speaking settlers in Kolkata and the neigbouring areas, a large section of whom went to East Pakistan after Independence but had to come back following the creation of Bangladesh, and the radical Islamists from Bangladesh had joined hands. For, they belong to the same ideological school.

TMC secretary general Partha Chatterjee said, “We have never played the communal card anywhere. And if anti-national people were involved in the Kaliachak incident, we’ll find out.”

But what, if at all, makes the TMC pamper the criminal and anti-social elements in the community? The common Muslim voter in Bengal has never been communal —in any sense of the term. He has always been led — either by his feudal lord or by the educated class of his community.

“Violence was always a foreign word to Bengali-speaking Muslims,” Salim said, pointing out that the state has witnessed a spike in the number of communal incidents during the TMC regime. In 2013 alone, it was 106, while it was 40 during the previous five years. The number is rising fast.

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