New Delhi: Yet another incident of statue vandalism came to limelight from West Bengal, whch has been witnessing a series of communal riots over the past few days. It was reported that the Hindutva mobs which have been on a rampage since the Ram Navami processions destroyed a statue of India’s first education minister, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Azad was a stalwart of the freedom struggle and a leading light of the Congress party.
The incident was first reported when images and videos of a mob bringing down his statue in Kankinara in North 24 Parganas district West Bengal were shared on Twitter.
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Taking a leaf out of the statue vandalism that followed across India after BJP’s recent victory in Tripura, Hindutva mobs pulled down Azad’s statue as part of this violence that followed after the processions. In the previous incidents of statue demolitions, right-wing activists had targeted the statues of the world communist leader Lenin, Periyar, the south Indian icon of the struggle against caste oppression, and Dr B.R. Ambedkar, prime author of the Indian constitution and a leading Dalit icon.
There has also been one instance of a statue of Hindutva icon Syama Prasad Mookerjee being desecrated in West Bengal.
Local Trinamool Congress MLA Arjun Singh confirmed the toppling of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s statue. “Cops are investigating. I do not know anything more,” he told india.com.
The Indian Express reported that Singh and the Bhatpara municipality chairman-in-council Md. Maqsood Alam, too participated in the rally. But Alam said the procession was “hijacked by people with the wrong intentions”, who “were raising pro-BJP slogans”.
“We had clear instructions to take out a procession without arms. It was a huge crowd, people kept joining us. Who came with what arms is a matter of police investigation. If someone wants to join with a sword in hand, how can we throw him out? After all, it is a matter of belief. We tried our best to control the crowd,” Alam said.
The newspaper also quoted an eyewitness, who described the incident. “A group of people said something, which the Muslim community objected to. There was an argument between the two groups, followed by stone-pelting. It was a long procession, and half the people were already near the Kankinara rail bridge, which was recently renamed after Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. When these people heard about the incident near the Jama Masjid (where the first clash happened), they pulled down the statue of Maulana Azad. The mob also targeted vehicles parked in the area,” said the eyewitness.
One person, Maqsood Khan, was killed in the violence. “My husband heard about the tension in the area and went out to bring back our six-year-old daughter, who had gone out to buy chocolate. He didn’t come back. Somebody fired at him and he collapsed on the road. Some people rushed him to the police station, and then to hospital, where the doctors declared him dead,” Khan’s wife, Gulabsa Begum told the Indian Express.
“There was firing and Maqsood was hit by a bullet on his chest. I had a narrow escape, with a bullet injury on my leg,” Ashraf Ali, a resident of the area, added.
The BJP, however, held the Mamata Banerjee government responsible for failing to control a worsening law and order situation. Its state president Dilip Ghosh said that the police should have been prepared to handle the situation as it knew that Kankinara was a communally-sensitive organisation.
Similarly, the saffron party’s national secretary, Rahul Sinha said, “The TMC took out Ram Navami processions at various places, where people were carrying arms. Mamata Banerjee should take action against them. Swords have always been a part of Ram Navami celebrations. This has all been created by TMC to scare people in the name of Ram.”
West Bengal has been in the grip of communal riots which received a fillip after aggressive Ram Navami marches were carried out by Hindutva groups. At least five districts, including Burdwan, North 24 Parganas, Purulia, Midnapore, and Murshidabad, saw such religious processions – one of which (Midnapore) was led by the BJP state president Dilip Ghosh – which degenerated into a communal riot.
It was reported that the groups entered Muslim localities without police permission to deliberately inflame residents. Similar incidents were reported during Durga Puja and other Hindu festivals in 2017 and the year before.
While the statues of ideological opponents of the Sangh parivar were destroyed before irrespective of their religious affiliation, the targeting of Azad, a freedom fighter and moderate Congress leader, is the first to have clear communal overtones.