Is it surprising that barely 24 hours after remaining in the headlines, the defeat of the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party at the hands of Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) has now been replaced by news about the violence by Trinamool cadres?
Just when she was being applauded for single handedly trouncing the combined might of the BJP and the Central agencies, an opportunity has arisen for people to condemn her for leading an army of goons. Even before a victorious Mamata can take her oath of office for a third time, the demand is being made to bring West Bengal under president’s rule. Is this something Mamata Banerjee would have wanted? Is she so arrogant as to allow violence by her party members to divert public discussion from her spectacular victory?
Or is there something more going on than meets the eye?
Violence has rocked parts of West Bengal after the declaration of the poll results, about this there is no doubt. It is alleged that the perpetrators in most of the cases belong to the ruling Trinamool Congress which swept the assembly elections in a most decisive manner. However, as can be seen from local news reports, the violence is not one sided – both the BJP and the TMC seem to have jumped into the field. So far, the number of post poll killings – 11 – is almost equally distributed among the alleged supporters of the TMC and the BJP. A member or supporter of the Indian Secular Front is also reported killed. With this, there are reports of violence against the supporters of the CPI(M), and some other Left parties.
Nevertheless, attempts are being made by BJP leaders and their celebrity supporters to capitalize on the post poll violence by painting it as “communal”. Bollywood actor Kangana Ranaut called on Narendra Modi to repeat the violence which took place in Gujarat in 2002 in West Bengal and show his “real VIRAT ROOP”. A former journalist who lost in this election has tried to paint the post poll violence as communal. Another BJP leader tweeted a video of unknown provenance to claim that Hindus are under severe attack and Hindu women have also been molested by “Muslim goons”. The aim is clearly to provoke Hindus into action.
The BJP has already given a call for a nationwide dharna to protest attacks on its cadre and supporters. The president of the BJP is visiting the state to take stock of the situation. Meanwhile a petition has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking a CBI investigation into the violence.
It is interesting that while acknowledging that “violence is nothing new in Bengal”, Dilip Ghosh, president of the West Bengal BJP finds the current poll violence abnormal. “After the results, there is a little bit of excitement everywhere. But not even 24 hours have passed since the results and six persons are killed. Thousands of houses have been burnt down or vandalised. We are getting reports from every assembly (segment),” he added.
Not that the BJP chief is opposed to political violence. He himself has on several occasions threatened violence. Even during the campaign he threatened to smash the intelligentsia if it dared to involve itself in politics! His other party leaders like the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh had openly talked about violence. He had warned that after the elections “the Trinamool goons would beg for their lives”. Ghosh threatened to break the bones of the Trinamool members after the elections.
Somehow, BJP’s leaders had convinced themselves that they would emerge victors in this election. That did not happen. The BJP did increase its tally in the assembly significantly but suffered a humiliating defeat. Its election campaign was aggressively communal and violent. It was as if a war was being waged. The election result was not accepted gracefully. The BJP has not been able to accept defeat. It thinks that the people of West Bengal have made a wrong choice.
So, is the violence then a pretext which would be used by the BJP to delegitimise the decisive victory of the Trinamool Congress? Undoubtedly. This is not to deny that Trinamool workers have been involved in violence at many places. But TMC members have also been killed so the violence is definitely not a one-sided affair. As Aditya Nigam, a keen observer of West Bengal had warned, “Given the character of the TMC, where there are any number of goons and gangsters at the local level (often inherited from the CPI-M), operating in relative autonomy from the party organization, violence is likely to continue like before. Battles for local supremacy, leading to violent attacks on party offices of the CPI-M and BJP have already begun, according to reports coming in. If such things continue, then the BJP stands to be the sole beneficiary, given that it is the only opposition now. Mamata Banerjee needs to call a halt to such happenings.”
Mamata did give a call for peace and asked her party members not to get provoked and excited. But that appeal is not strong enough. Since charges are being levelled against her party, would it not be appropriate for her to lead from the front to halt the violence?
Some people have claimed that the police administration is not entirely in the hands of Mamata as everything is being controlled by the Election Commission. We saw the police chief being summoned by the governor. The Centre has also sought a report.
Old videos of violence, some from other states, are being circulated to agitate the minds of the people, especially Hindus. For example, videos of a violent incident in Odisha or Delhi are in circulation. Local CPI(ML) workers are keeping vigil and busting fake news about burnings, bombings and killings. There are reports that goons from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have been hired for violence. It reminds one of the reports of outsiders being brought in to unleash violence in Delhi last year.
It is very clear that the violence which even the BJP chief feels is normal in the state is being projected as communal violence. This campaign is not aimed at West Bengal. It is aimed at addressing the constituents of the BJP outside the state. To convince them that if the BJP is not elected, Hindus would be in trouble. This is not only to make people forget the BJP’s defeat but to reignite the communal flame that has been dimmed by the current pandemic. It will give fresh energy to BJP supporters, many of whom are demoralised by the utter misgovernance at the centre and total mismanagement of the system by their top leaders.
But for this vicious campaign to be defeated, it is important that the violence – whethere one-sided or two-sided, communally aimed or not – be halted. Mamata Banerjee has a greater role here. But even the vanquished Left parties and the Congress have a duty towards the people of the state. They need to come forward actively as the CPI(ML) has done and start a peace campaign. Civil society too has its part to play, to tell the truth and stand firmly against violence of all kinds – communal, partisan, and intellectual.
As chief minister, the responsibility to stop the violence lies squarely with Mamata Banerjee. She has emerged as a formidable fighter. She has just defeated the politics of hate and violence. Can she afford to allow violence by her workers to mar the significance of her victory? Violence in any form should be rejected. Invoking past connections – real or imaginary – to justify vengeful violence is equally despicable. This is not the time to analyse the history of violence in the state. We must, in unqualified terms, demand an end to the cycle of violence in West Bengal. And Mamata Banerjee has to take the lead here.