Malda is one of the poorest districts of West Bengal where cross border smuggling and trafficking are routine activities.
Come elections, vote bank politics come into play in India and more so in States like West Bengal where it is always politically charged atmosphere. West Bengal is a State where there is a large Muslim and Scheduled Caste population and violence is a frequent phenomenon. Cadres, irrespective of political parties, resort to hooliganism at the drop of a hat. If Left parties used muscle power for electoral gains, the Trinamool Congress has perfected it.
As Assembly elections are nearing in West Bengal, communal violence takes an ugly turn and polarisation becomes more pronounced, that too with the BJP throwing its hat into the ring as one of the serious contenders in the elections. Recent violence in Malda, a Muslim-dominated district bordering Bangladesh is, therefore, no surprise.
The violence reported from Sujapur village in Kaliachak block of Malda district is said to have been triggered by a derogatory statement made by self-proclaimed Hindu leader Mr Kamlesh Tiwari on Prophet Mohammad. The Hindu Mahasabha leader, Mr Tiwari, made the statement in Lucknow on December 1, 2015, but this news spread to this border town much later resulting in leaflets being circulated by the Idara-e-Shariya, a religious group, and protests organised in the early January. Some 1.5 lakh people gathered in Kaliachak’s Chowringhee area, which subsequently turned ugly as they blocked the highway and got into an altercation with the Border Security Force. Shots were fired in the air, vehicles were torched by violent mobs and police stations were ransacked. The planned religious protest turned into a communal violence in the border town where nearly 90 per cent of the population are Muslims.
The town which has not seen any major communal incident during the past 70 years despite being a hotbed of cross border criminal activities, witnessed one of the worst violent incidents in recent history.
Violence has virtually become a routine affair in West Bengal, particularly during Ms Mamata Banerjee regime. The BJP was quick to accuse the TMC government of indulging in vote bank politics in Malda. A BJP delegation led by the party General Secretary, Mr Kailash Vijayvargiya, submitted a memorandum to the President, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, charging Ms Mamata Government with attempting to protect the culprits.
“The Malda incident is linked to the country’s internal security… This vote bank politics poses a threat to internal security as the same mob also raised pro-Pakistan slogans. That is why we have requested the President to seek his own report from the Governor and the report sought by the Central Government from the State will help stop the threat caused to the country’s internal security,” Mr Vijayvargiya said.
More recently a new interpretation is being given to the violence, which the State administration claim was a clash between the BSF and locals because of inter-mafia rivalry and intra-party turf war. Malda is one of the poorest districts of West Bengal where cross border smuggling and trafficking are routine activities. Smuggling has increased and mafia culture has taken root in the town. Small arms manufacture has become cottage industry there with the increasing flow of ill-gotten money. Turf war and kidnappings have become rampant.
Political pundits attribute this to political instability in this border district after the passing away of Congress strongman ABA Ghani Chowdhury, who dominated the local politics since Independence. With the Trinamool Congress trying to get control of politics after his death, many gangs associated with the Congress and the CPM have now moved to Ms Mamata's ruling party through defection. This has sparked factionalism and with elections in April-May this year more than 50 killings have already taken place in the last four to five months. These incidents of violence exclude those of Malda. There is also politico-criminal nexus and with increasing cross-border trade in narcotics, local farmers are lured into cultivating poppy illegally.
Some argue that January 3 Malda violence was engineered by mafia to restore eroding confidence in them and to demonstrate that their writ still runs. What is more dangerous is the growing undercurrent of radicalism, be it Malda, Moradabad incident and the beef episode of Dadri.
Whether it is Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Sikh fanaticism, the society gets divided for no fault of citizens just because a small group wants to get political mileage in the elections. The divisive and polarising politics needed to be kept away but unfortunately the brand of politics pursued by various political parties only seem to encourage this.
Since Independence all parties swear by secularism but leave no stone unturned in ensuring the gullible poor remain as just vote bank. Their emotions and sentiments are exploited to the hilt for political purposes of the leaders. In the process poor become victims as their lives are not treated seriously.
Most politicians don’t seem to be interested in economic and social development of their respective constituencies. They exploit unemployed youth unmindful of consequences. It is time that saner voices in all political parties came together to ensure their party men move away from such brand of politics.
With elections due in several major states in the country in the next 12-15 months, political parties should come to a consensus on not fomenting violence for the common good of people. This would perhaps earn them goodwill in the long run.