Clashes, political spat continue in West Bengal over communal flare-up

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee warned the rioters of stern action after three days of violence left scores of people wounded.

india Updated: Jul 16, 2017 07:10 IST
Snigdhendu Bhattacharya
Snigdhendu Bhattacharya
Hindustan Times
Bengal riots,Mamata Banerjee,Communal clashes
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee addresses a press conference in Kolkata on Wednesday.(PTI Photo)

At least 23 people were wounded in continuing communal clashes in West Bengal’s Basirhat subdivision, where mobs were squaring up over a Hindu school student’s Facebook post that offended Muslims.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee warned the rioters of stern action after three days of violence left scores of people wounded. Mobs torched shops, houses and police vehicles in the communally sensitive area in North 24 Parganas district, about 65km from Kolkata.

Public gatherings were prohibited in the subdivision on Wednesday and internet services blocked to stop the spread of rumours through social media. For those with access to the internet, police said “tweet responsibly, not with the aim of spreading rumours; disturbing communal harmony”.

Paramilitary troopers and state policemen have taken position in village and town squares and roads. Barring the security forces, the streets were almost deserted, shops shut and schools closed.

But the violence is spreading and engulfing new areas with Hindu and Muslims groups reportedly moving around with sharp weapons out of the administration’s sight. Reports said a UCO Bank office was vandalised in a fresh attack.

The unabated flare-up escalated a war of words between the ruling Trinamool Congress and Raj Bhavan after chief minister Banerjee accused the governor of threatening and insulting her when he called to enquire about the Basirhat situation.

Banerjee accused governor Keshari Nath Tripathi of behaving like a “BJP block president”, while education minister Partha Chatterjee said on Wednesday he has exceeded his constitutional limits. The party asked the Centre to recall Tripathi, a BJP leader appointed governor in 2014.

The governor denied the charges and said the “allegations of the chief minister amount to insulting and humiliating the governor and his office”.

But the chief minister continued her charges against him, and also accused the BJP of trying to destabilise an elected government.

“The BJP has adopted a new tactic that consists of floating objectionable material on social media that will instigate tension between communities. We are determined to counter it by forming peace committees,” she said.

The Trinamool and BJP have been at loggerheads over various issues, the latest being the goods and services tax that was launched on July 1. West Bengal is considered the BJP’s weakest link but the party has made considerable inroads in the state, winning elections that were deemed impossible a few years ago.

The opposition parties, including the BJP, criticised the state government over the Basirhat clashes.

BJP state president Dilip Ghosh blamed the chief minister, saying the situation is the outcome of her whimsical and narrow vision.

State Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury suggested calling the army, while CPM parliamentarian M Salim made a similar demand.

“The chief minister knows the situation has gone out of control and, therefore, she is resorting to such drama to divert attention. She should immediately call an all-party meeting and seek help from the army,” Salim said.

About a dozen police and paramilitary men were said to be wounded in the violence.

First Published: Jul 05, 2017 21:48 IST