By Sandeep Mahapatra
“What Bengal thinks/does today, India thinks/does 20 years hence” was the common refrain one used to hear not long ago, but the happenings in the recent years in the state have brought about an altogether different perception which can safely be paraphrased to say that “What Kashmir did to Hindus 20 years ago, West Bengal is doing now.”
Repeated communal flare-ups and targeting the Hindu community have become common place occurrence in the last six years since the Trinamool came to power. The irony is the state government, rather than nipping the problem in its inception, followed a policy of pandering to the fundamentalists in the Muslim community, leading to a situation where incidences like Kalichak, Dhulagrah, Canning, Deganga and now Basirhat are recurring every few months or so. To top it all, the state government always has/had an alibi for such recurrences by inventing a reason, albeit flawed, to shift the blame to some one else, from the RSS to the BJP and now “Hindutva forces” little realising that (who knows it could be deliberate as well) the state is pushed to an irretrievable position, all for the sake of vote bank politics.
The current communal riots in Basirhat, which has now spread to various other districts, is a case in point where the Chief Minister of the state, rather than taking effective measures to contain the situation, has resorted to her purported spat with the Governor of the state alleging that he berated her like a BJP block President! Following suit, other Trinamool leaders have proclaimed the Governor, a senior lawyer of repute and a former Speaker of the UP assembly as some one having an “agenda”!
An objectionable Facebook post by a teenager who was promptly arrested was the genesis of the flaring-up of communal tension which has since claimed the life of a RSS worker Sh. Kartik Ghosh, apart from the ransacking and looting of many households belonging to the Hindus including his. The mob was led by Islamists who wanted the teen to be handed over to them to be dealt in accordance with Sharia law in a country governed by rule of law! When all this happened, the West Bengal police stood as a mute spectator and central forces had to be called in to contain the situation, reflecting the poor state of law and order in the state.
The situation is certainly far from normal and many Hindu families have been forced to flee their homes and hearth not only in Basirhat but many places in the adjoining district as well. The sequence of events leading to the flare-up is a pointer to how the state police abdicated its duty. On the day of occurrence, around 7 pm, a crowd gathered outside the teen’s house hurling stones and vandalising it; after a few hours, a mob came and ransacked the house setting it on fire. Had the police acted with alacrity, things would have been different, but it seems that an unwritten order has been passed by the state government for the police to look the other way when such incidences happen.
While these incidences have received some amount of media/public attention, another set of occurrences relating to the celebration of popular Hindu festivals has even got the Calcutta High Court moved. In October, the state government banned immersion of Durga idols on the day of “visarjan”, sacrosanct for Hindus, because of the Muharram procession happening the same day. The High Court lambasted the state government and recorded that it was appeasing the minority to the detriment of the majority community.
Even after such judicial pronouncements, there has been no let-off on the part of the Trinamool government in so far as appeasement policy is concerned. Only last month, a person belonging to the Muslim community was appointed Chairman of a Hindu Temple: this must be a first of its kind anywhere in India. The fundamentalists have become so enthused that one “Sahi Imam” refused to take off the red beacon light from his car, alluding to some “British firman” notwithstanding a ban imposed by the central government. It is a different matter that he was subsequently dismissed, but the point that the ruling dispensation has done all it could to camouflage the misdeed of such elements is not lost on any one, except for the Trinamool.
A government whose ministers and MPs have been arrested for various crimes ranging from a chit fund scam to rousing communal tension to giving support to the Islamists has resorted to appeasement of the minority in order to gain political dividends and to divert attention. It speaks volumes about the government’s failure to address the real issues that have plagued the state. The policy of appeasement has ensured that a core vote bank is kept intact at the cost of Hindus, who are not allowed to celebrate Durga Puja as it happened in Birbhum district, or for that matter, Saraswati Puja as it happened in some other parts of the state in recent years. During the recent Basirhat riots, the idols of Lord Jagganath were desecrated during the “ulta rath” yatra, while the police, following the unwritten diktat, remained a bystander, alienating the Hindus.
Added to the communal divide that the Trinamool has brought about by patronising various Muslim fundamentalist groups, and due to inaction on the part of the state machinery, the districts bordering Bangladesh have become hubs of drug-trafficking, counterfeit currency, illegal cattle trade and jihadi activities. Any attempt to control such menace is met by stiff resistance as was witnessed in Kaliachak, where a BSF outpost was set on fire by a mob led by Jihadi and Islamist elements. Dhulagarh is another case in point that was dubbed as a “local incidence” and making a “mountain out of a mole hill” by no less than the Chief Minister of the state, clearly trying to downplay major communal violence that saw scores of houses and establishment of the Hindus torched and ransacked.
Even though West Bengal has been witnessing regular communal riots, the silence on the part of the so-called intelligentsia who otherwise are the first ones to descend at the place of occurrence, as have been the cases where Muslims have allegedly been at the receiving end, is nothing but an act of being complicit and gives a handle to the state government to argue that only a particular section of the media or a particular political party is highlighting such incidences for their own vested interest.
The state of affairs, unless corrected, will see another mass exodus of Hindus and this time from the land of Syama Prasad Mukherjee, who led down his life for the integration of Kashmir with India.
(Sandeep Mahapatra is a practising lawyer in Delhi and contributes regularly on issues of law, politics, culture and governance in print and electronic media. He was also president, JNU Students’ Union in 2000.)