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Why is West Bengal in the grip of intense violence?

LiveMint logoLiveMint 09-07-2017 Arkamoy Dutta Majumdar

Kolkata: On Saturday, West Bengal’s chief minister Mamata Banerjee blamed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for stirring up unrest across the state. Hours later, workers of the BJP and her own Trinamool Congress party clashed in North Dinajpur district, in which at least one person was killed, according to Pradip Yadav, additional superintendent of the police of the district.

For the past one-and-a-half months, the state has witnessed intense violence in different districts and of different nature. In Darjeeling, where tension escalated on Saturday after at least three persons were killed in police firing, the strife is political in nature. But what happened in Basirhat in North 24 Parganas district last week was communal, triggered by an objectionable Facebook post of a juvenile. Yet, BJP is being blamed for all the chief minister’s troubles.

For Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, BJP has clearly emerged to be the only political adversary, but key officials in the government do not agree with her view that BJP alone is responsible for the recent unrest.

“Undoubtedly, politics is at the root of all the trouble,” said one officer, pointing at what Rahul Sinha, a top BJP leader in West Bengal, had said on Thursday. Sinha had said addressing the media that BJP owed a lot to the chief minister and her “politics of minority appeasement” for being able to make rapid inroads in West Bengal. “Even without having a charismatic local leader, the BJP has found the formula to take on Banerjee,” said the officer, asking not to be identified.

On Saturday, the chief minister said two little known wings of the BJP had been banned in the state, blaming them for inciting communal violence in North 24 Parganas district. The move is questionable, according to the officer. “Sometimes it is better to ignore a disruptive force than to acknowledge it as a menace,” he said, adding that she has anyhow launched a judicial probe headed by a retired judge of the Calcutta high court. “Why not wait for its report while keeping a tight vigil on the activities of these groups?” he asked.

“Banerjee is scared of the BJP now,” said Dilip Ghosh, the party’s state president. “People are deserting the Trinamool Congress and its corrupt leaders everywhere,” he said. Previously she would blame the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Congress for every disruption, but now these parties have lost relevance, according to Ghosh. “So now she has picked on the BJP to hide her government’s administrative failure,” he added.

Last week, amid allegations of intelligence failure and inadequate policing in dealing with communal clashes in North 24 Parganas district, Banerjee announced that the state would form a civilian force to work closely with the police to pre-empt attacks on communal harmony, while admitting that the police alone were not being able to cope with the menace of polarization.

“Political interference with policing is an old problem in West Bengal, as it is in many other states,” said a former additional chief secretary of West Bengal, asking not to be identified. “From what I have gathered from officers still in service, my view is the interference has only increased with the change of regime, and it has come to such a pass that even actionable intelligence is often ignored out of political considerations,” he added.

In Darjeeling, key officials admitted to intelligence failure in pre-empting the standoff. Immediately after the civic poll results showed that Trinamool Congress had started to make inroads in Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts, the Gorkhas had decided to politically hit back, said two officials, who, too, asked not to be identified. They were looking for the right opportunity to launch their agitation but the district intelligence branch had no clue, they added.

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