Recipe for engineering a communal division: the case of Basirhat

Arkady Gaider

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Arkady Gaider offers a detailed ground-level perspective on the genesis of the ongoing communal riot in Basirhat Subdivision, North 24 Parganas, West Bengal. He elaborates upon how the TMC allowed the riot situation to develop with the help of Hindu and Muslim communal groups despite mass resistance on the ground. Translated from Bangla by Suchetana Chattopadhyay.

Let me tell you a story. For the last three days, I have spoken to different kinds of people, gathered news and connected the dots with the lines that make up this story. It will be wrong to say I made this all up. This story was waiting to be told, to be put together and written.

In the entire Basirhat subdivision, Jamat has been cultivated for a long time. Especially during the last ten years. The Jamatis have been entering the villages from Bangladesh in a planned manner and holding meetings. You may have seen some of the videos of their activities in the internet. In the entire Barasat-Basirhat-Deganga area in the last five years, the Jamati public has been arriving en masse-faced with the battering they have received in the hands of Sheikh Hasina’s government in Bangladesh. They have brought Jamati ideology, Saudi funding and private Madrasas (which are not recognised by West Bengal Government) with them. The former TMC MP, Haji Nurul and his current successor Idris Ali have received Jamat’s help; in return, the Jamatis are given a free hand in the area. The money misappropriated in the Sarada Chit Fund Scam has been funnelled into the Jamati activities in Bangladesh. This has cemented TMC’s influence over Jamat and ensured its support during elections. Meanwhile the BJP/RSS/Sangh Parivar has entered the scene. They have been active among Hindu migrants from Bangladesh for a long time, organising them along communal lines. The Hindu communal brigade had started campaigning vociferously that the Hindus are about to be drowned by an Islamist wave. As a result of this kind of propaganda, in the by-election, Samik Bhattacharya, the BJP candidate won from Basirhat South constituency in North 24 Parganas district in 2014. He was the first BJP M.L.A to be elected to West Bengal Legislative Assembly without forming an alliance with TMC. The party, therefore, for the first time, utilising the plank of communal polarisation, struck out on its own in Basirhat and Bengal.

Yet in the middle of this communal deluge, local Muslims turned against Jamat. Slowly, they built a resistance. The Jamatis had targeted local mazhars and the Pirs as anti-Islamic. Their conflict with local society had widened as a result.

In the 2016 Assembly elections, in the three constituencies of Basirhat, the CPI(M), the INC and the TMC won the three seats. The TMC realised that despite the efforts of ‘deeply religious’ leaders like Idris Ali and the Jamati cohorts, Muslim voters are refusing to be consolidated along communal lines. They are being guided by political considerations and not their religion. 

The trouble at Baduria began last Sunday (2 July 2017). At the instigation of a BJP leader, a local newspaper published a fake news which accused local Muslims of hoisting the Pakistani flag on the day of Eid. Then Hindu Sanhati entered the scene. You must have heard of this outfit? Its leader, Tapan Ghosh appealed to the Hindu electorate to vote for Mamata, campaigned for the TMC in the 2016 Assembly polls and asked the TMC voters in various neighbourhoods to join its ranks since ‘we are with you and on the didi’s side’. The 17 year old youth who posted a filthy image on Facebook, is linked with Hindu Sanhati. Some Muslims protested against the post. The youth was arrested.

The fun part of the story begins here. Local people say the Muslim protestors who had gheraoed the thana were dispersed by the police. Suddenly some unknown miscreants speaking in Hindi appeared out of nowhere. They were the ones who set fire to police vehicles and destroyed public and private assets. (Please see the video report of CNN News 18.)

Then wild rumours started circulating. They alleged a mosque has been demolished, the Holy Koran has been desecrated. The trouble now spread over a wider area. A mob then started trashing assets, setting fire to shops and houses, blocking roads. The arrested youth’s uncle’s house was burnt down also. Many local young men and women from both Hindu and Muslim backgrounds, along with elderly Imams of various mosques, took to the streets appealing for peace and communal harmony. For the first few hours, their appeal had little effect. Please remember that 24 hours had already passed while the trouble was brewing. It was being allowed to spread, the police and the administration having done nothing to stop what was happening. Mamata Banerjee and the Governor had a spat over the phone. Mamata called a Press Conference. She remarked: ‘I have given you enough protection; I won’t do it anymore.’ Who did she mean as ‘you’? The rioters? The Jamati preachers? The ordinary Muslims? After this the police became active. The local peace-loving people also organised themselves. The Pir of Furfura Sharif Ibrahim Siddiqui, the Pirzada of Basirhat, the Chairman of the All Bengal Imam’s Association and others condemned the violence and appealed for peace. The TMC MP, Idris Ali was probably asleep while all this was going on. Dipendu Biswas, the TMC MLA was away in Germany to watch football matches. In his absence, Rafikul Islam, the CPI (M) MLA from Basirhat North had to step in and campaign for peace in Basirhat South. Meanwhile, Babul Supriyo, the BJP MP from Barasat and Dilip Biswas, BJP State President had been publicly fighting on Twitter over their status as newcomers in politics: they were accusing each other of being upstarts without experience. After this public row, they too suddenly joined the chorus led by Hindu Sanhati and started talking of the need for ‘Hindus to take revenge’.

So, what does all this mean? They lead us to the following conclusion: the planned cultivation of Jamat and Hindu Sanhati in the area had not yielded what the TMC longed for. The voters could not be divided along communal lines. So this 48 hour script became essential for producing this communal drama to make the Hindus feel adequately insecure and push them into the BJP votebank and frighten the Muslims into believing that the BJP will gain ground if the TMC does not act as their savior. The opposition vote is thus neatly divided by beautifully carving up the electorate. The trouble could have been nipped in the bud within an hour. Instead the state administration was sent on holiday to magnify the chaos tenfold. To this recipe was added the masala of hot words exchanged with the Governor, the threat of President’s rule and the deployment of central forces. The joint formula of Nagpur and Kalighat led to the manufacture of this poison.
Those who meant to benefit from this incident, have already benefitted. They are licking the cream of power. Only you and I have been excluded. We will now distrust each other a little more. We will stare at each other through hooded eyes. We will be afraid of each other. We will grow further apart. The GST disaster, the Narada graft scandal, the peasant movement at Bhangar have been forgotten for the moment.
Mission successful! 

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Arkady Gaider is a Facebook blogger who writes on political, social, cultural and historical themes.