Peace first: Editorial on Mamata’s message in the wake of unrest
The sequence of events in Howrah, West Bengal since Thursday seems to justify the strong stand that the state’s chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, had taken from its beginning. Roads and a section of a highway were blocked for hours on Thursday by a group of protesters ostensibly aggrieved by derogatory remarks hurtful to a particular community made by the Bharatiya Janata Party spokespersons, Nupur Sharma and Navin Jindal, who had since been suspended from the party. The protesters demanded their arrest, something that was also part of the chief minister’s message, indicating that she was fully aware of the offence to the community. That was Ms Banerjee’s message to the BJP. To the protesters, however, she was equally forthright, asking them why people in her state should suffer for hours because of the BJP, especially since the BJP was not in power here. There were other modes of protest and, in any case, those should be undertaken elsewhere. Most insightful among her remarks that day was the frank warning that people here, instead of sympathising with the protesters’ cause, which was presumably their aim, would be angry with them for causing such massive disruption. The spot the group had chosen not only caused a huge traffic snarl spilling into one of Calcutta’s arterial roads, but also prevented patients and railway passengers from reaching their destinations. It was noticeable that Ms Banerjee was joined in her admonition by leaders of the community to which the protesters claimed to belong.
Subsequent events, including the spreading unrest in Howrah district and incidents in Murshidabad, point to the sagacity of the chief minister’s early warning. Disruptive strategies divide the people; forces seeking to polarise them find their leverage in such divided sentiments. A sensitive matter used as fuel has the potential to ignite the wisest and most peaceful of co-existing communities. Is it folly then, that caused the protesters to be disruptive, or a desire for trouble? The chief minister as well as the community heads who asked for peace seemed to have foreseen the unrest that is now being handled firmly by the administration. The chief minister’s first message suggested a difference between peaceful protesters and disruptors of peace, although she did not spell this out. It is of overwhelming importance that West Bengal walk back from the edge.