Basirhat tells us battle for Bengal will be bloody
The bottom line of the communal flare-up in West Bengal’s Basirhat is that blood will hereafter be ritualistically spilled in the run-up to every election.
It is nobody’s case that communal violence is new to this country. Hindus and Muslims have clashed regularly through ages, but it is now they are going for each other’s throats with unfailing regularity in states readying for polls.
Sporadic and scattered religious violence preceded the last elections in Assam. Ditto with Uttar Pradesh, which, barring just one day, saw at least one riot daily over four years leading up to the 2017 assembly elections.
The trigger in most cases was almost certainly one or a mix of reasons among a cocktail of emotive issues, ranging from meat found in Hindu temples to a Hindu girl eloping with a Muslim boy or vice versa. Petty disputes over parking to suspicion of cow smuggling and slaughter have also led to conflagrations.
But the pattern emerging in recent times is more disconcerting. Odisha is headed for crucial elections in 2019 and communal tensions have erupted on at least two occasions. A Facebook post sparked arson in the coastal town of Bhadrak some months ago followed by ugly skirmishes in the district of Kendrapara.
What Basirhat in North 24 Parganas of West Bengal has been witnessing over the past few days is therefore not without context. Assembly elections in the state are still a few years away, but Bengal undoubtedly is one frontier that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hopes to breach to expand its footprint in parts of the country it was mostly non-existent.
Parliamentary elections scheduled for 2019 provide the party with a perfect opportunity to prove its growing prowess and polarisation of voters on religious lines can certainly help its cause.
The political battle lines are, therefore, drawn in West Bengal and Basirhat is simply a collateral damage, though not entirely unintended. Religious fault lines have run deep in the state with 27% Muslim population. It has grown deeper since Mamata Banerjee took over as the chief minister. The Muslims are her impregnable vote bank and she has allowed the perception to grow that she cares for them. Her initiatives to give stipends to Imams and promote madarsas among other things have helped her political capital grow.
It has, however, left sections of Hindus to nurse a feeling of victimhood, leaving the chief minister somewhat vulnerable. Political rivals see in the situation a chance to vitiate the mood further and win over voters to their side. Lost in the slugfest is who started it all.
Since October 2016, West Bengal has witnessed 11 communal flare-ups with Basirhat being the latest but almost certainly not the last. The political contest is heating up and so is the fight between religious hotheads with an eye on votes. The battle for Bengal will be bloody.