Fresh clashes in West Bengal; anger and fear on both sides

Last Updated: Fri, Jul 07, 2017 18:20 hrs
Fresh clashes in West Bengal; anger and fear on both sides

Police personnel try to control mob violence run amok in West Bengal's North Parganas. Image: Twitter/@suneet72

As life was slowly returning back to normal in the violence affected areas of West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district, a clash broke out between the ruling Trinamool Congress supporters and Bharatiya Janata Party-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh activists outside a government run hospital following the death a patient.

Internet and Wi-Fi services remained suspended in the affected areas. The violence claimed its first victim in 65 year old Kartik Ghosh old who succumbed to his stab wounds.

Earlier in the week, communal clashes broke out over an objectionable Facebook post by a class 11 student with objectionable images linked to the Prophet, which prompted the state government to send in 400 troops to assist the police. Angry Muslim mobs set fire to shops and houses belonging to Hindus. As tensions escalated, shops were shut down; as a result bringing life to a standstill.

What followed were the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banarjee and the Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi trading insults, with the CM accusing the Governor of threatening her over the phone. She said of the phone call, “He (Governor) threatened me over phone. The way he spoke, taking the side of BJP, I felt insulted. I have told him that he cannot talk like this. He (the governor) is behaving like a block president of BJP. He should understand that he has been nominated to the post.”

The West Bengal CM alleging a conspiracy against her government announced the formation of a 'Shanti Vahini' (peace army) at every booth in the state to maintain peace and communal harmony.

The violence quickly turned political as the BJP accused Mamata Banarjee of appeasing Muslims and the ruling Trinamool Congress alleged that the BJP was inciting violence for some kind of electoral and/or political benefit.

On Friday, Roopa Ganguly and other BJP leaders were stopped near the Kolkata airport in their attempt to visit Basirhat, which is located about 100 kms from Kolkata. Congress and Left leaders were also turned back by police.

Trinamool Congress spokesperson Derek O’Brien directly criticized the BJP for the violence–

In an op-ed for NDTV, he writes on how the BJP is playing with fire and accused the RSS of spreading rumours –  

“The recent incident in North 24 Parganas district of Bengal is a case study on how a religious controversy is manufactured and promoted by the Rumour Spreading Society (RSS). Its affiliates join in for the political benefit of the BJP. The BJP has been trying to make inroads in Bengal. “

“People react to the social media post and the state administration calms nerves. It is a challenging situation but hardly a crisis. What do the BJP and the RSS do? They pour gallons of oil in an attempt to enlarge the fire.”

For The Wire, Sayandeb Chowdhury writes on how the BJP is communalising Bengal instead of offering governance -

“This is the latest in the line of sporadic riots Bengal has seen over the last months. Emboldened by its successes elsewhere, the local BJP has started to create some nuisance value. In a state like Bengal, plagued by the lack of jobs and secure livelihoods, a meal a day and some extra cash can attract a steady stream of jobless vigilantes.”

He also writes on how Islamists are tapping into the anger present in these areas to create chaos and propagate violence –

“To promote their own agenda, local Islamists are also tapping into the lack of employment and limited education opportunities among vulnerable Muslim youths. Such machinations are known to often lead to explosive situations – like the one that was witnessed in the state early this week.”

On the response to the violence, and any political change in the state, he writes –

“The state’s response to communal violence has been predictable. It has primarily kept the media out of troubled areas and when cornered, has blatantly blamed the BJP. It is premature to talk about any substantial political change at the moment. But if the TMC messes it all up and the Left continues to be in the lurch, the big gainer will be the BJP. Bengal is not just a border state and a populous state. It is today also a troubled state.”

The Telegraph reported on how local politics played a role in the violence. The report states that the Bengal government believes there are two organizations representing two communities that are involved. It also highlights the role of a local Trinamool MLA Dipendu Biswas, who was alleged to have “turned Trinamool against Trinamool” as stated by a senior TMC leader.

For the Huffington Post, Sandip Roy writes

“Trinamool can insist it proves that these are outside forces meddling in Bengal to create polarization. The BJP can insist it proves the state governments are so beholden to vote bank politics it is unable or unwilling to crack down on law breakers.”

The Indian Express editorial stated that the blame should be shared between the Trinamool and the BJP –

“At a time when the two parties must work together to calm tempers and stanch tensions, their leaderships seem focused on attacking each other.”

“Instead of building on the legacy of communal peace in West Bengal, the Trinamool and the BJP have sought to use religious affiliations to mobilize cadres. The numerous communal clashes reported from the state in recent times point to this disturbing trend. It threatens West Bengal’s social fabric and communal peace.”

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