Bengal’s people must step in to save the state from communal politics
As the lives of ordinary citizens limp back to normalcy in the riot-hit regions of the state, it is time for serious reflection for all those who want to prevent West Bengal’s slide into the disastrous trajectory of communal polarisation and violence.
This is not the first riot that has occurred in the state in recent times. A series of communal conflicts occurred in Chandannagar, Hazinagar, Kharagpur and Chanchal in October 2016, triggered by disputes over processions brought out on the occasions of Vijaya Dashami and Muharram. The riots in Baduria and Basirhat last week were triggered by an abusive Facebook post derogatorily depicting Prophet Muhammad, following which angry mobs of Muslims resorted to blockades and vandalism. This happened days after Eid al-Fitr and coincided with the processions of Ultarath (the conclusion of the Jagannath Rathyatra).
It is clear by now that religious occasions of the Hindus and Muslims, which have been celebrated in peace and harmony for centuries in Bengal, are being deliberately targeted by communal and criminal elements of both communities to engineer communal conflagrations and fan mutual hatred. There is a distinct method in this madness.
The RSS-BJP is playing the most pernicious role in misusing religious occasions to facilitate communal polarisation in Bengal today. This was fully exposed when during the Ramnavami celebrations in April 2017, BJP leaders openly brandished swords and even forced schoolchildren to carry weapons in religious processions. This was in keeping with Savarkar’s strategy to “Hinduise all politics and militarise Hindudom”.
Circulation of inflammatory material, containing fake news or hate-filled communal messages, has also seen a phenomenal rise in Bengal in recent times through social media and instant messaging platforms like Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter.
The reason why the state administration is unable to combat this diabolic but obvious strategy, however, has much to do with the dubious nature of Trinamool Congress’ politics. Defying the secular principle of separating religion from politics, the chief minister has assiduously mixed the two from the very inception of her rule, besides accommodating fundamentalist sections within the Muslim community within her party.
The present MP of Basirhat, for instance, or the MLA from Haroa assembly constituency, are known trouble-makers who have a history of instigating communal violence. It is not surprising, therefore, that they have failed to persuade the agitated Muslims of Baduria and Basirhat to stop the violence, even after the provocateur from Baduria who had made the outrageous Facebook post was arrested.
Communal elements within the Muslim community have been systematically encouraged by the TMC government’s policies of announcing stipends for imams, trying to stop the immersion of Durga idols on the day of Muharram procession last year or senior ministers of the TMC Government actively participating in a AIMPLB rally on the triple talaq issue in Kolkata last November, when the matter was still under the apex court’s consideration.
The Trinamool Congress has simultaneously allowed majoritarian communal outfits like the Hindu Sanhati to openly mobilise people on communal lines and asking them to vote for the ruling party during elections. This dangerous concoction of communal politics patronised by the ruling party has eroded the credibility of the administration and prevented it from acting in an effective and non-partisan manner in conflict situations.
The most alarming aspect of the recurring communal violence in West Bengal is the absence of any punishment for the perpetrators. In all the incidents that have recurred during the last one year, the miscreants have seldom been arrested. In rare cases of some arrests, they were later set free, succumbing to communal pressures.
In the case of the recent violence in Baduria, Basirhat and adjoining areas, several crimes have been committed besides the initial Facebook post – the house of the provocateur was torched, the Baduria police station was vandalised, the SP’s vehicle was attacked and set on fire. In Basirhat, criminals from both the communities destroyed shops and properties of innocent people and a 65-year-old citizen was stabbed to death. The perpetrators of each of these crimes need to be identified and punished in order to ensure justice.
While ordering an inquiry, however, the chief minister has tried to shield the perpetrators by blaming forces from “across the border” for the misdeeds. Even if religious extremists from Bangladesh had a role in the violence in Basirhat, it could not have occurred on this scale without local collaborators. Unless these miscreants are clearly identified and brought to justice, irrespective of their religious and political background, the mutual distrust among the Hindus and Muslims will only grow.
If the ruling Trinamool Congress and the administration continue to condone the perpetrators of communal violence and the RSS-BJP pursues its polarisation agenda without any credible opposition, it will be left to the ordinary people of Bengal to hit the streets in order to save the state from a descent into endless internecine conflicts.
Prasenjit Bose is an economist and activist
The views expressed are personal