In Bengal’s post-poll political violence, a battle of narratives
Even as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has alleged 17 of its workers have been killed in nine days in Bengal’s post-verdict political violence, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) has accused the BJP of spreading fake news on social media, while police investigation into some of the alleged murders pointed at either suicide or unnatural death. As a result, the story of Bengal’s political violence has got mired in narratives and counter-narratives, with truth a possible casualty.
Asking the police to probe the source of these social media posts, chief minister Mamata Banerjee said on May 7 that 16 people had been killed since May 2 and half of the victims were TMC workers.
In the polls, TMC bagged 213 seats against the BJP’s 77. Elections were held in 292 of the state’s 294 seats as two candidates at two seats in Murshidabad district died of Covid-19. Polls in these constituencies will be held later. On Monday, the Union home ministry sanctioned central security cover for all 77 BJP legislators in view of the potential threats to them.
The stories behind the deaths
The BJP on Tuesday claimed that Ranjit Das, a party worker in North 24 Parganas district’s Amdanga assembly constituency, which the TMC won, was murdered and the body was left hanging from a tree. The party even circulated a photograph on social media.
District police officials said no such incident had been reported and no official complaint was lodged at Amdanga police station till Tuesday afternoon.
On Monday, the BJP alleged that Kush Khetrapal, a party worker, was murdered at Kotulpur in Bankura district. The party even circulated a photograph in which a man could be seen atop a high branch of a big tree. It was not clear whether he was dead or alive.
“The photograph in circulation is not related to the actual incident. A man named Kush Khetrapal died of drowning when he fell in a pond in an inebriated state. There was no violence involved,” Manas Chatterjee, officer-in-charge of Kotulpur police station told HT.
On May 7, the bodies of two young men were found hanging from a tree in the Mothabari area of Malda district. BJP leaders alleged they were party workers murdered by TMC-backed goons.
Alok Rajoria, the Malda district superintendent of police told HT that postmortem examination report and police investigation conducted over three days proved that the young men had died by suicide.
“The owner of the shop from where the boys bought the rope gave a statement. A friend of the two boys spotted them buying the rope and asked why they needed it. The boys said it was meant for some domestic use. Their bodies did not have any external injury except for a wound on the foot of one of the boys. It turned out to be marks from an animal bite. Their families did not even lodge a police complaint,” said Rajoria.
“Neither the families nor the boys had connection with any political party. The families said the boys were addicted to playing games on their phones. They left their phones at home on the night of the incident,” Rajoria added.
The political war
“Spreading fake news, morphed photographs and edited videos is an old practice of the BJP. Even when a debt-ridden farmer commits suicide or a man takes his own life after a failed affair, the BJP sees an opportunity to create a sensation,” said TMC MLA and party spokesperson Tapas Roy.
On Monday, the state government told a five-judge bench of the Calcutta high court, which was hearing a public interest litigation related to post-poll violence, that no incident was reported from any part of the state after May 8. The court observed that the state had taken steps to contain violence.
Reiterating the allegations of violence, Bengal BJP’s chief spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya said, “Having highest respect for the court, I would like to say that its observation is surprising. The court should send its representatives to those areas where the TMC has unleashed terror. Women are being raped and molested. Shops and farms are being looted and ransacked so that our workers lose their source of income...Banerjee and her police are giving wrong information to the people to hide the truth.”
Former Rajya Sabha member Swapan Dasgupta, who lost from Tarakwswar in Hooghly district, alleged that owner of the house BJP took on rent for him during campaign, was not spared. “The man, who runs a cold storage business, faced threats from the TMC because we used his house,” said Dasgupta.
The violence has not spared the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M), although it could not win even one seat just like its poll ally, the Congress.
“Kakali Khetrapal, one of our women activists, was murdered by TMC workers at Nabagram village in the Jamalpur area of West Burdwan district on May 3. When villagers retaliated, two TMC workers died in a clash. But not everywhere have such retaliations taken place. Our supporters from that zone have gone into hiding,” said Amal Haldar, a senior CPI(M) state leader who hails from the district.
In north Bengal’s Cooch Behar district, Udayan Guha, the former TMC legislator who lost his Dinhata assembly seat to the BJP by only 57 votes, suffered fractures in his right arm and two of his security officers were injured in an alleged attack by BJP workers on May 6. Guha underwent a second surgery on Tuesday and a steel plate was implanted in his arm. In North Bengal, the BJP won 30 of the region’s 54 assembly seats. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the saffron camp bagged seven of the region’s eight seats.
Last week, the chief minister alleged that Cooch Behar witnessed more violence than other places. “BJP leaders are instigating people. I request them to accept the people’s mandate and restrain themselves,” said Banerjee.
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