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Saffron sneaks up on Red vote bank

Bagdah (North 24-Parganas), Dec. 25: Back in 1972, Sunil Baidya — then the leader of the CPM’s youth brigade in the Gobrapur-Kundipur belt — was the first person any refugee crossing over from the other side of the border would look up. He would organise relief camps, distribute food and clothes (and political literature) and it was people like Baidya who built up a base for the CPM that has stood the test of time.

Cut to the present: Bimal Nath (not his real name) is the person organising relief camps. But he is not from the CPM though he, too, was once a Forward Bloc cadre. He now works for the Bastuhara Sahayata Samiti (a front for the Vishwa Hindu Parishad) and it is he who has become the only Indian the refugees of today can trust wholeheartedly.

Like Baidya then, who is now old and does not find much favour with the party, Nath is setting up relief camps and arranging for food and clothing for the people trying to set up home in a foreign land. Like Baidya then, he is now bringing some of the refugees to Calcutta to attend weekend camps, albeit of the VHP.

But unlike Baidya then, he feels hounded. His wife has received numerous threats — neighbours tell her nothing is going to happen to her, nothing except that she is going to become a widow — and Nath now stays away from home, changing shelters from night to night. He does not reveal his temporary addresses, preferring to evade a direct answer by saying “edik-odik (here and there)”.

Pleading that his name and address not be published, he says he does not want any publicity for the good work he is doing. “I would rather live,” he explains.

But this round of refugee politics — always high-yielding in terms of votes because the recent entrants tend to vote in a block — could also have a fallout for the CPM.

With village after refugee-sheltering village falling prey to the VHP’s brand of politics — very popular now because of the emotions that are still raw and are likely to remain that way as the politics of oppression on the other side of the border does not look like ending soon — the CPM, by turning a blind eye to the problem, may be yielding valuable political space to parties that are yet to find widespread acceptance in West Bengal.

Though the VHP claims it is not focussing on politics — Calcutta VHP leader N.L. Datta Banik would rather concentrate on the “human tragedy” — the CPM cadre in the Bongaon-Bagdah belt feel that their party is committing a mistake by refusing to take note of the unfolding situation. “Upper-level politics (between prime ministers and chief ministers) may be important and inter-country diplomacy may demand a partial blindness to the situation, but local sentiments are very crucial as well,” a Bagdah CPM leader admitted.

The VHP, apparently, is concentrating on these “local sentiments”. A video recording of mainly interviews of the refugees — mostly women — has been made and copies are being made in Calcutta to show the “real picture in Bangladesh”, in the hope that the video images of the “real picture” would help it just as Godhra worked for Narendra Modi.

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