Communalism

Bengal: How BJP Leaders Used Fake News to Build a Communal Narrative on Post-Poll Violence

According to latest reports, at least 14 people have died. However, aided by fake news, BJP has led a misleading campaign on this violence.

Kolkata: Political violence in West Bengal has a history of more than 50 years. This time, right after Trinamool Congress (TMC) swept the state by winning 213 of the 292 seats, reports of violence started coming in from various parts of the state.

According to the latest reports, at least 14 people died in political clashes since the election results were out on Sunday. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) claimed that six of their supporters/workers were killed, taking the toll to nine. On the other hand, TMC claimed four of their workers died.

Amidst all these, BJP leaders, the ‘IT cell’ and BJP supporters have been using social media to carve out a distinctive narrative by spreading fake photographs and videos and give the violence a communal colour.

BJP national president J.P. Nadda flew down to Kolkata on Tuesday afternoon to take stock of the situation. On Wednesday morning, Nadda sat on a dharna at the party’s Hastings office in Kolkata to protest against the “TMC-sponsored violence”.

Representative image. BJP and TMC flags in Sonamukhi. Photo: Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta/The Wire

Reports of post-poll violence

BJP worker Abhijit Sarkar, from Beliaghata in north Kolkata, was killed on Monday allegedly by TMC hoodlums, the Times of India reported.

Shovarani Mandal, an elderly woman from Jagatdal in North 24 Parganas, was allegedly killed when she tried to protect her son, a cornered BJP worker. Uttam Ghosh, a BJP worker from Ranaghat, was also allegedly killed by rival party workers.

The newly formed Indian Secular Front (ISF) also claimed that one of its workers, Hasanur Jaman, was killed in North 24 Parganas. A report also had it that that CPI(M)’s mahila samiti leader was beaten to death in Murshidabad district.

Fifty-four-year-old Srinivas Ghosh, a TMC panchayat member of Ketugram in Birbhum, was allegedly hacked to death by BJP supporters.

In Hooghly’s Khanakul, TMC worker Debu Pramanik was hacked to death at his house. A CPI(M) office was reportedly set ablaze at Chopra in North Dinajpur. A TMC worker was killed in Pingla in West Midnapore, the Hindustan Times quoted state police as saying.

Four people were allegedly killed in clashes between the TMC and the BJP in Purba Bardhaman district after the election results were announced, official sources said on Monday, according to PTI.

Other than these, there are several reports where TMC workers allegedly attacked opposition party workers, ransacked party offices in parts of Bengal. TMC leaders allege that BJP workers attacked their workers in Galsi, Nabagram and Bardhaman.

Also read: Amidst Reports of Deaths in Post-Poll Violence in West Bengal, Banerjee Appeals for Peace

‘Communal’

While all the incidents are political, the saffron party has claimed some are “communal”.

Swapan Dasgupta, former BJP Rajya Sabha MP, who lost from Tarakeswar, tweeted on Monday urging Union home minister Amit Shah to send a security force in Bengal. “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,” Dasgupta tweeted.

 

Saumitra Khan, BJP MP from Bishnupur and president of the Yuva Morcha, tweeted on Tuesday that a BJP woman worker in Nanoor, Birbhum was gangraped. The tweet has been deleted, but versions of it, containing graphic images have been circulated by other supporters. Khan has since retweeted a version of his post with the exact false claim.

India Today Group’s executive editor Deep Halder, who had amplified the BJP leader’s version without verification, later said on the social media platform that he deleted the tweet after the news of gang-rape in Birbhum was reported to be fake.

 

Nagendra Nath Tripathi, Birbhum police chief, confirmed in a press briefing that reports of gang-rape in Birbhum are fake. “We are trying to find out from where this fake news originated on social media. We will take appropriate action against them,” Tripathi said.

BJP MP Meenakashi Lekhi took to Twitter to explicitly name communities and dub the violence in Bengal as “communal”. She tweeted: “Violence under TMC is a reminder of Direct Action Day call by Jinnah & TMC today is Jinnah’s Muslim league. Highest crime records of murders, killings, rapes and freedom of expression vocalists have chosen silence. Aisi waise, kaise taisi democracy! 5 states had elections, none like this.”

 

Senior journalist Abhijit Majumder also amplified the communal angle, and tweeted, “Jihadis celebrating Holi with blood being played in Bengal. ‘Secular’, ‘liberal’ worthies, I wish these Adils reach your homes some day.”

 

BJP MP from Delhi Parvesh Singh issued warnings to the TMC and said, “TMC goons killed our workers as soon as they won the elections, broke the vehicles of BJP workers and are setting their houses on fire. Remember, TMC MPs, chief ministers, MLAs also have to come to Delhi, consider this as a warning.”

The Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) put out a statement on Tuesday saying, “There are continual reports from almost every part of the state that the anti-social goons and “Jihadi” elements of TMC are victimising Hindus through public violence, arson, looting and destroying their houses, temples, settlements, outraging dignity  of their sisters-mother-daughters and torching their business establishment.”

The statement issued by the VHP also gave a clarion call, saying: “Hindu society also has the full right of self defence, which it will use.”

Fake news

An old video of a mob attacking police in Odisha was shared as evidence of post-poll violence in West Bengal, AltNews has reported. Aaj Tak journalist Kamlesh Singh shared the fake video and later took it down, the report said.

Also read: The Bengal Violence May Not Be One-Sided or ‘New’ but Mamata Has a Duty To Stop It

Another video was circulated heavily on social media showing TMC’s post-result celebrations, where a group of people were dancing and brandishing swords while TMC’s “Khela Hobe” campaign songs were playing in the background. BJP’s national Mahila Morcha in-charge Priti Gandhi shared the video, which garnered over 83,000 views.

CID West Bengal has claimed through its official Twitter handle that the video is fake.

 

A photograph from the 2019 Vidyasagar college violence was also passed off as post-poll violence in West Bengal.

Another picture of mob violence with the hashtag #BengalBurning was widely shared. One Twitter user wrote that the image shows the “condition of Hindus” in Bengal. BJP Tamil Nadu IT and social media head Nirmal Kumar shared the same image and used the hashtag #PresidentRuleInBengal.

However, AltNews fact-checked and found the image was from March 30, 2018. “A police patrol party in Raniganj, Burdwan, where clashes and incidents of arson were reported following a Ram Navami procession,” the Hindustan Times had reported in 2018, with the image credited to PTI.

Facebook page ‘The Hindu Beats’ shared images from Dhaka, Bangladesh and claimed that the images are recent ones from Bengal.

Two accounts on Instagram ‘Yuvadope’ and ‘Tatva India’ with over 50,000 followers have been sharing fake news and provocative posts titled “West Bengal facing genocide”, “Women are gangraped”, “People were killed on streets”, and “Bengal violence was planned by Mamata and its goons much before elections.”

Reporters from a top fact-checking website, who asked not to be named, told The Wire, “There is a flood of disinformation and fake news unleashed by BJP handles. We don’t have the resources to go through all of it because of its sheer scale.”

Also read: Fake News and Communal Incitement Add Fuel to Post-Poll Fire in West Bengal

Call for president’s rule

There has also been a coordinated effort by the BJP leaders and pro-BJP individuals to portray the state’s law and order in such a situation that the president’s rule must be invoked in Bengal.

Chennai-based NGO Indic Collective Trust moved Supreme Court on Tuesday seeking a declaration from the court under Article 356 that president’s rule be imposed in West Bengal because the law and order machinery in the state has broken down, Bar and Bench reported.

“It has come to the attention of the petitioner based on credible news reports that since the declaration of the election result in West Bengal on 02.05.2021, several miscreants and violent elements belonging to the victorious political party have wreaked havoc and have created a state of unrest by committing heinous offences of, inter alia, bombing, murder, gang rape, outraging of modesty of women, arson, kidnapping, loot, vandalism and destruction of public property,” the plea said.

The foundation of charges, including gang-rape, made by the NGO, were premised on fake news peddled by a section of BJP leaders.

Meanwhile, on Twitter, the hashtag #PresidentsRuleinBengal was also made to trend.

Journalist Abhijit Majumder also openly called for president’s rule in the state, and tweeted, “Get #PresidentRuleInBengal. Get the Army on the streets. Shoot murderous, molesting mobs at sight. Make a list of 3,000-5,000 criminals and neutralise them in 6 months. Put every scam-tainted neta in jail. Bring NRC. Show some spine and save Bengal.”

 

MP Parvesh Singh and many other party cadres and sympathisers of Bengal, especially outside the state, have called for the imposition of the president’s rule.