As BJP and Trinamool Fight It Out, Who Will Save Bengal from Political Violence?

To assert that you cannot do politics in Bengal without violence is an insult to its people. It's high time politicians – and the rest of us – speak out against this continuing cycle and lead the state towards peace.

Do all of us – who love Rabindra Sangeet, who wistfully talk about Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Mrinal Sen and Aparna Sen, who cannot live without Kazi Nazrul Islam, whose first love across generations remains Sukanta Bhattacharya, who are thankful to Raja Ram Mohan Roy for his relentless struggle against his own people for abolishing the practice of Sati – just sit and wring our hands while Bengal bleeds to death?

Bengal is being ravaged as part of a cynical game between political parties. It is up for grabs. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is relishing this moment and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) – due to its foolishness and hotheadedness – is simply handing the state over to the saffron party.

Mamata Banerjee must realise that she is the chief minister of the state and not merely the head of her party. It is unbecoming of her to say that more of ‘her’ people (TMC) have been killed post-elections than ‘theirs’ (BJP).

All those who are suffering are citizens of Bengal and, therefore, it is her responsibility as the leader of the state to give them a sense of security. She is not meant to speak only for her party members – but as we can see, she is doing just that. Banerjee appears to be becoming increasingly partisan and her appeal to save the Bangla culture sounds hollow and unconvincing.

Is she blind to the fact that her own party people are defecting to the BJP in larger numbers?

It’s clear to all that the BJP is hell-bent on creating and sustaining violence in Bengal. The party knows that it’s the only route to gaining power in the state. When it demanded that its dead to be taken to Kolkata and paraded, the party was merely reading from the script written by the TMC in 2011. The ruling Left Front was clueless then.

Banerjee must rise above being a mere party leader and start acting like a leader of the people. Her response to the attack on a doctor by the relatives and friends of a deceased patient in Kolkata’s NRS Medical College and Hospital is extremely callous. Her telling the agitating doctors to return to work or risk facing penalties has only made them angrier towards her. She is being seen as a leader who can rush to the cite of the incident after the bust of a statue is broken but remains in her office when humans are being violated.

Also read: While Bengal Is in Turmoil, Men Explain Marxism to Me

The fact that the attackers bore the ‘wrong’ religious identity is also not helpful – the doctor who is now in a critical condition is a Hindu and the alleged attackers were Muslims. The burden of that particular attack has now come on the entire community. BJP leaders did not waste a single moment before alleging that the TMC government was “protecting Muslims”.

Mamata Banerjee reinstalling the statue of Vidyasagar that was desecrated during poll violence. Image: PTI

Banerjee’s coldness towards the agitating doctors is only giving credence to the BJP’s charge. Muslims of the state are paying for her churlish behaviour.

What happened in Kolkata is a familiar tale: A patient died. Overburdened doctors faced the wrath of relatives who alleged negligence. Frustrated doctors boycotted work – but have we ever heard that the attack happened because of religious identities? In almost all cases, the instigators of violence remain unpunished and the demand of doctors for security remains just that – a demand.

A party like the BJP, however, makes sure to highlight the religion of the attackers to turn it into a Hindu-Muslim issue. But should we allow a medical issue to be overshadowed by a communal agenda?

BJP’s state president Dilip Ghosh, responding to the recent violence in the state, claimed that 47% of the people of the ‘particular community’ are ‘anti-socials’. He said, ”That specific community is being mobilised to attack BJP. They know that they will not be touched (in Bengal). They can do all wrong under police protection. They are never punished.”

Ghosh has previously been more forthright about who he believes these ‘anti-socials’ are. In an interview in 2017, he said: “Wherever Muslims are dominant, trouble and unrest brews”.

Also read: Do Muslims in India Have to Depend on the Goodwill of Hindus for Survival?

What the BJP is doing is not surprising, but what about the rest? Is it not time for the political class to go to the people and speak against the violence? Or do they also believe that violence is in the political culture of Bengal and nothing can be done about it?

BJP workers hold a ‘Black Day’ rally to protest the killing of party workers in Balurghat, West Bengal on Monday. Image: PTI

Prakash Karat, when asked about the violence of his party Communist Party of India (Marxist), had expressed helplessness, claiming that it was the political culture of the state. The TMC has been using violence to deal with its rivals. That pattern is being used as a justification for the continued violence – a strategy now being employed by the BJP.

Violence begets violence. Each act of violence becomes a justification for the next one. Communal violence then does not look worse than the Left violence and “democratic” violence. We know that communal violence is particularly harmful because it creates a permanent divide in the society, and makes the members of a particular community suspect in the eyes of another one. It creates violent competitive communitarian politics.

When the TMC assumed power after dislodging the Left, it started attacking and burning CPI(M) party offices. Some of us, who had opposed the violence of the Left earlier, got worried and prepared a statement criticising the violence on the CPI(M). While collecting signatures for it, I called a senior cultural figure from Bengal, a revered name who was on the forefront of the opposition to the violence of the CPI(M). She, however, refused to condemn this reverse attack. It was slightly shocking but not entirely unpredictable.

To say and believe that you cannot do politics in Bengal without violence is an insult to its people. Would Rahul Gandhi, who keeps talking about the power of love, Sitaram Yechury and Mamata Banerjee, who wants a second renaissance in Bengal, rise to the occasion and lead the people and the state towards peace? Or, will the rest of the civilised society – poets, writers, journalists, actors, cinema people, students and teachers – watch from the sidelines while their dear Bengal gets dismantled right before their eyes?

Apoorvanand teaches at Delhi University.