Malda sweet of sour ?
Sweetness of Malda mangoes is turning sour because of communal tension, if reports are to be believed. On January 3, around one-lakh Muslim protesters took out a procession at Kaliachak in Malda against a hate speech by Hindu Mahasabha leader Kamlesh Tiwari in Uttar Pradesh in December last year. The demonstrators then went on a rampage, setting the Kaliachak police station and several vehicles on fire. One person sustained a bullet injury. Contesting questions, Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee dubbed the Kaliachak incident a confrontation between villagers and the BSF, denying the incident had any communal colour. She also said the situation in Bengal is under control and cleared that there is no communal trouble in Bengal. On the other hand the Home Ministry has asked the government of West Bengal to submit a report on the violence.
BJP has accused Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress of protecting those behind recent violence. BJP’s Siddhartha Nath Singh had accused Mamata Banerjee of playing “dirtiest vote bank politics in Malda and Bengal, The greatest threat of vote bank politics is national security. That is why we have decided to go the Home Minister and the President and appraise them of the situation for appropriate action,” he said in Delhi.
On 11th January, a BJP team was stopped from entering Kaliachak. This has led to fresh round of political mudslinging in the case. The political temperature is only likely to soar with state elections due in three months. So what exactly is the current situation in the state?
The district authorities turned the fact-finding team of BJP comprising of MPs Bhupendra Yadav, Ram Vilas Vedanti and SS Ahluwalia, a BJP Member of Parliament from the state, back soon after they reached Malda Town citing prohibitory orders.
“This act of West Bengal government is condemnable,” Yadav said. Ahluwalia said the team will request Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh to constitute a high-power committee to go into the situation in the area. “The purpose of the visit was to console the people, to restore their confidence that something like this will not happen in future. Due to pressure from the state government, the district administration said that we cannot go there as Section 144 CrPC has been imposed,” Ahluwalia said.
Reacting to the development, senior BJP leader Siddhartha Nath Singh said in Delhi that a party delegation will meet the President in this regard. The decision to not let the three-member BJP team go there was a “text book example” of Banerjee’s vote bank politics, Singh, a BJP national secretary, alleged, adding the “dictatorial state government has compassion for criminals but it shows gun to nationalists”.
TMC immediately shot back. “The situation in Kaliachak, Malda was tense, but never got out of hand. The police handled the issue tactfully. Thankfully, no deaths occurred, no injuries and 10 people have been arrested”, TMC chief national spokesperson Derek O’Brien said in a statement in Kolkata.Dubbing Kaliachak violence as a ‘criminal issue’, he alleged, “BJP/RSS, as is their strategy, tried to turn it into communal issue. They did this by trending hash tags on Twitter, sharing year-old photographs and posting irresponsible tweets with the help of its social media army”. Derek O’Brien said that the BJP was trying for the last one week to present “what I call CIN 100, Communally Insensitive Narrative, 100 days before the state goes to polls. They follow the same tactic in all election-bound states”.
This time senior BJP leader Kailash Vijaywargiya and BJP’s in charge of Bengal got a valid point to speak on intolerance when he questioned “silence” of those who had returned their awards in protest against “growing intolerance” in the country. Terming the violence in Malda and Purnia as a “matter of concern” for the country, Malda is believed to be a hub of a fake currency racket and according to the National Investigation Agency, 90 per cent of the fake currency that enters India from Pakistan via Bangladesh comes in from Malda, which borders the neighboring country of Bangladesh.
A major reason behind this is the bizarre aloofness of successive state governments to crack down on illegal immigration. Also, the soft minority appeasement policy to garner votes of the community was championed by the Left and is now been perfected by the TMC.
Hence, even after the Burdwan blast, which unearthed a dangerous plan hatched from Bengal to topple the Bangladesh government, not many steps have been taken to crack down on all the extremist forces. The fringe voices have undoubtedly grown with the police and ruling party showing a blind eye.
Accusations and counter accusations
The genesis of the turmoil that has unfolded in Malda and Purnea rests in the statements of two gentlemen, namely, Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan and Hindu Mahasabha leader Kamlesh Tiwari. Azam Khan likened RSS men to homosexuals following which Kamlesh Tiwari raised questions in relation to the sexual orientation of Prophet Muhammad.The politics of competitive communalism had begun. Protests erupted and Kamlesh Tiwari was arrested, who is now in a Lucknow jail.
Instead of giving the rational that the Malda incident was not a communal one since it did not involve clashes between two communities, Mamata Banerjee should have instantly ordered an independent probe into the incident to figure out what exactly sparked the rioting and whether there was any pre-planning involved since there are allegations that one of the intentions behind the act could have been to burn the crime records available with the police.
A response of this kind on the part of the state government would have sent out the message that no matter which religious denomination you belong to, if you try and take the law in your own hands, you’ll not be spared. But by indulging in a needless debate regarding whether the incident was of a communal nature or not, Mamata Banerjee is playing into the hands of the BJP which will only result in polarization.
Experts feel the Kaliachak incident is part of a string of at least six communal clashes in the state that have gone unnoticed in the past two years. In May, three Dalit people lost their lives in a clash in Nadia district.
When BJP and TMC is involved in mudslidding, Left and Congress too doesn’t want to be left behind. The Left has accused both Trinamool and BJP of inciting communalism. “It is a dangerous game being played out before the polls by Mamata Banerjee and BJP leaders. Trinamool Congress is allowing fundamentalists to gain ground in Bengal. While the RSS and BJP are stoking communal fire, the latter is hoping for polarization,” Mohammad Salim, CPI-M politburo member and Lok Sabha MP said.
On the other hand Congress leader and former State Congress President Manas Bhuniya said, “This is the tip of an iceberg. The poison has spread not only in bordering areas but also deep inside Bengal, The chief minister, IGs and DIGs are sitting quiet. They are waiting for such incidents to happen. Why is the CM not working with government agencies like NIA and crack down on the mischievous elements?” asked Bhuniya, the six-time MLA.
On the most important fact that emerges is also the role of the media. The rampage in Malda, one of the most communally sensitive districts in West Bengal, was a hotly discussed topic on social media all through last week, when most of the mainstream media opted to be away from this incident, only a few choose to stand by the news.
The regional press on its part has taken the strategy of playing down any event of transgression and disruption, a move primarily to prevent any domino effects in this sensitive state. The coverage of Malda riots too predictably remained extremely muted in the local press, with the story being relegated to the back pages.
Assembly polls in Bengal are due to be declaredin few months, where almost 30 per cent voters are Muslim. The swing away of Muslims from the Left has played an important role in Mamata Banerjee’s stunning victory in 2011. 51 per cent of the total population in Maldais Muslim. But Trinamool won just one assembly seat out of 12 in 2011 but since then, defections from the Congress and the Left have raised the Trinamool tally up to five. The Congress won two Lok Sabha seats in 2014 from the district, which is regarded as Congress base with Abdul Ghani Khan’s legacy still holds sentiments. The BJP has so far been a minor player in the state. It got 16 per cent of the total vote share in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP increased its vote share in Malda by almost 15 per cent. So, the interest of all the major players of politics over Malda, cannot be overlooked.
By Joydeep Dasgupta from Malda