Bengal polls 2021: Post-election violence breaks out in several places
Post-poll violence has broken out in several places in Bengal but instead of seeking to calm tempers, the Right-wing ecosystem is profiling alleged victims and attackers by religion and building a tempo to derail the mandate of 2021 and create an impression that the state has become a fit case for President’s rule.
Since the results were declared on Sunday, 17 deaths have been attributed to political clashes. The BJP has said nine of its supporters were killed, Trinamul six and the Sanjukta Morcha two.
BJP national president J.P. Nadda reached Calcutta on Tuesday on a two-day visit amid a high-pitched social media campaign across the country by the saffron camp — replete with religious references and spiced up with some fake visuals.
As soon as he landed, Nadda drew parallels between the political clashes and the Partition.
Nadda’s visit appeared to be part of a well-crafted 360-degree plan as the social media — along with pliant sections of the visual media — was used to target Mamata Banerjee.
Mamata, who has already appealed for peace, will take full charge as chief minister only on Wednesday. Till Monday, the state was under the watch of the Election Commission.
Two separate PILs were filed in the Supreme Court on Tuesday, seeking deployment of central paramilitary forces and a CBI probe into the alleged attacks on Opposition party workers.
Violence in any form on anyone cannot be condoned. Well-meaning citizens have done so too.
Consider the contrasting tones in which actor Parambrata Chattopadhyay and defeated BJP candidate Swapan Dasgupta have reacted to the reports of violence.
“Nothing justifies violence, irrespective of the number of incidents. Perpetrators should be brought to justice. Urge @AITCofficial (Trinamul Congress) to send out a strong message to the workers and set an example. It’s been a resounding mandate, let’s respect that!” Chattopadhyay tweeted, seeking to ensure peace.
The actor added: “Humiliated by the drubbing they’ve been given recently, RW (Right wing) forces have resorted to the oldest trick in their book; spreading fake news (some of which have been busted too) and communalising political events. Don’t fall for it, Bengal and India.”
Mentioning the religion of the victims, Dasgupta tweeted on Monday night: “Alarming situation in Nanoor (Birbhum district) with more than a thousand Hindu families out in the fields to escape marauding mobs seeking to take it out against BJP supporters. Reports of molestation or worse of women. @AmitShah please rush some security to the area.”
Bengal has a condemnable history of post-poll violence wherein the victors and the vanquished had been clashing for decades. But never before had the narrative on these clashes been spun along the identities of those involved.
It is a diabolic misadventure. If the complexion of the political clashes changes overnight and they become sectarian, the consequences will be disastrous.
If the pre-poll plan was to divide the voters along Hindu-Muslim lines to ensure the
majority community votes for the BJP’s nominees, it became clear from Sunday night that the focus, in the aftermath of a landslide in favour Mamata, is to paint Muslims as aggressors and Hindus as victims.
Muslims are attacking BJP supporters and their properties — multiple BJP leaders have been parroting to journalists. Social media posts are loaded with allegations against Muslims.
The attackers include both Muslims and Hindus but to profile one community alone is playing with fire during an unfolding situation.
Besides, the pre-poll weeks were marked by extreme provocation by the Right wing that taunted the minority community with slogans and worse on the hope that riots will break out and polarise the voters.
Bengal saw through such attempts and peace held till the polls were over. It is possible that a backlash is now underway, which can be checked only through mature and prudent interventions by the leaders of all sides.
What the Right wing tried to accomplish through the day on Tuesday was to shovel fuel into the fire, showing themselves up as not only poor but also irresponsible losers.
Even as the people of Bengal were trying to figure out what was happening, the allegations got a dose of credibility after governor Jagdeep Dhankhar tweeted that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had called him expressing his concerns over the law-and-order situation.
Modi’s articulation of concern received a lot of traction but not many asked whether he had called up the governor to enquire about the Covid situation in the state.
It is also clear that Nadda’s visit was planned as part of a strategy to make the clashes topical in prime time to manufacture consent in favour of President’s rule — a proposal the Right wing kept tossing up through the day.
If the victims and the aggressors are being described along with their religious identities, there is little doubt that something sinister is going on. A case in point is the riots that Delhi witnessed in the immediate aftermath of the Delhi Assembly polls that the BJP lost.
In the clashes that took place in the minority-dominated areas, which were the nerve centres of anti-citizenship act protests, at least 53 people lost their lives.
Selective in mourning has been a consistent strategy of the BJP. When five people were killed in Sitalkuchi during the elections, the saffron ecosystem spoke only about the Hindu victim of a political clash while referring to four others, gunned down by the central forces, as trouble mongers who had attacked the forces.
Other than offering condolences during an election speech in the immediate aftermath of the killings, neither Modi nor Shah expressed any regret on the deaths of four young, poor Muslims. But the BJP machinery didn’t waste any time to go to the town with the deaths of Hindus allegedly at the hands of Muslims.
On Tuesday, BJP leaders like MPs Saumitra Khan and Agnimitra Paul posted on their social media handles that a woman party worker in Birbhum’s Nanoor had been gang-raped by Trinamul goons and the post was shared on the official Twitter handle of the Bengal BJP. At the local level, the campaign was that a Hindu woman, a BJP activist, had been gang-raped by Muslims.
Later in the day, police confirmed that the claim was fake.
An old clip from Odisha was circulated to suggest that Trinamul supporters were attacking a police team. The lie was nailed by a fact-checking portal.
Trinamul, the party that won the elections with such a sweeping mandate, cannot shrug off blame for not being able to control the post-poll violence despite Mamata’s appeal to maintain peace.
Supporters of the BJP alone have not been at the receiving end. Several Left and Congress supporters also have been attacked.
The battle, however, is not about winning a war of words with the BJP’s spin-doctors. The real challenge is to defuse the bomb that has started ticking with the BJP focusing swiftly back on the state with renewed vigour after the shock drubbing.
Mamata, as the head of the state administration, must not forget that her fight is not with the Left or the Congress and she cannot afford to give the BJP another toehold.
With all the central agencies at its disposal, the majority of mass media under its command and the Raj Bhavan by its side, the BJP can spring a surprise in no time on the democratically elected government.
Only appeals for maintenance of peace will not be enough and Mamata will have to act tough on the perpetrators of violence as well as those trying to use it to ensure further polarisation.
With over 30 per cent Muslims in the state — a majority of whom come from economically vulnerable sections and have been spending sleepless nights since the upsurge of Hindu nationalism — Bengal cannot afford any riot.
Mamata led Bengal in a battle that her party as well as the state won. Now, the onus lies on her to lead the state out of strife and into peace.