Monday, July 17, 2017

Om Prakash Mishra - Quelling a Facebook riot in West Bengal

People have simply refused to react to morphed, photoshopped and out of context pictures in Badauria-Basirhat. Instead, they are taking out peace marches. The conspiracy to pit one community against the other has failed. All this seems to have frustrated the state BJP leadership.

A diabolical and planned conspiracy to involve West Bengal in a cauldron of communal riots, centring on Baduria and Basirhat in North 24 Parganas district has been defeated. Not only has peace been secured, the triumph of communal amity is being celebrated by people in innovative ways. A malicious hateful Facebook post shared by a teenager from Baduria was the opportunity communal and extremist elements were waiting to exploit. A porous border, lax administration and the likely collusion between certain sections of the ruling Trinamool party with malefic elements across the border with Bangladesh meant that hundreds of people descended on Baduria and Basirhat from both sides to inflame passions in the name of religion.

The fact that outsiders were involved should leave us in no doubt that the riots were planned keeping in mind the geographical location of Badauria-Basirhat on the India-Bangladesh border. As if on cue, the counter-attack was also immediate. In the process, two persons were seriously injured - Kartick Ghosh succumbed to his injuries, but Fazlur Sardar, although seriously injured, has survived. Signifi-cantly, Kartick Ghosh’s son brought Fazlur Sardar to the Kolkata hospital in the same ambulance arranged for his father. He was the one who got Fazlur admitted to the hospital and looked after him.

North 24 Parganas is one of the largest districts in the country, with 33 Assembly constituencies. A large part of the district borders Bangladesh. Smuggling in cattle, patronized by leaders of the Trinamool Congress as well as earlier governments has been the mainstay, especially in Basirhat and Bongaon sub-divisions. Illegal migration is common, while the irregular movement of people across the porous border is a fact of life. Importantly, irregular migration has involved not only Muslims but also Hindus from neighbouring Bangladesh.

To protest the attack, counter-attacks, bandhs and rail roko agitation in surrounding areas were equally swift. The BJP was in the forefront of organizing the agitation. Though the teenager was arrested for his Facebook post, the vandalism and arson by the protesting mob of outsiders could not 
be prevented despite the efforts of villagers belonging to both communities. The administration has been most lethargic in containing the violence. It has not made any significant arrests. Instead of focusing on the deteriorating situation in Basirhat, chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who also holds the Home portfolio, spent her time in accusing Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi of insulting her – he had, reportedly, confronted her over the phone on the deteriorating law and order situation in the district.

The governor-chief minister spat took the focus away from the administration’s demonstrated resolve to deal with the situation. The TMC was conspicuous by its absence as outsiders ran amok; it was the activists of non-TMC political parties, like Badauria Congress MLA Qazi Abdur Rahim Dilu, and social and cultural organisations who attempted to restore peace. Residents of Souvik Sarkar’s village say that those who attacked his home were outsiders and it was his Muslim neighbours who rushed in to contain the fire. In Basirhat South, the TMC MLA was first conspicuously absent from the scene, then displayed a cunning highhandedness upon arrival – it is widely believed that he is in collusion with cattle smuggling syndicates. The Facebook riot was waiting to happen. The nexus between cattle-smuggling gangs, large-scale rigging by the TMC to capture the Basirhat municipality and its constant efforts to engineer defections in panchayat bodies as well as the blatant misuse of the police has been ongoing for several years.

And contrary to the black-and-white “communal divide” descriptions resorted to by several national media, the truth is that both Hindus and Muslims have taken early and eager steps to defuse the situation. This was one of the reasons why attempts to provoke violence could not spread to Deganga or to Swarupnagar. In quite a few places, BJP activists were chased away when they tried to stop trains running on time. People have simply refused to react to morphed, photoshopped and out of context pictures. Instead, they are taking out peace marches. The conspiracy to pit one community against the other has failed. All this seems to have frustrated the state BJP leadership.

Last week’s weapon to incite communal tension, social media is now being vigorously used to battle hate-mongers. Even while the teenager is being condemned, many people are now asking why a school-boy was allowed to share a post which was obviously the handiwork of communal elements.
A campaign supported by people of both communities has also been launched to forgive the teenager. Questions are being directed at the state government’s failure to gauge the situation and take immediate measures. It is not surprising that the miscreants who vandalized a large part of Basirhat have not been identified. The TMC and BJP are both trying to polarize the situation, but at least for the time being, their nefarious plan is not succeeding.