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Talking the language of divide

Today, communal polarisation in West Bengal has become normal in the political discourse.   | Photo Credit: Twitter/@BJP4Bengal

Towards the end of the Left Front regime in West Bengal, a CPI(M) leader, Subhas Chakraborty, created a flutter in political circles by publicly participating in a Kali puja. He was asked by the party to distance himself from his statement that he was a “Hindu first and a Communist later”. The Left not only discouraged its leaders and cadres from participating in public religious events, but also referred to communal tensions as “violence between two communities”.

I remember the communal tensions in Murshidabad district in July 2009 that resulted in four deaths. The District Magistrate warned me against visiting the riot-affected areas and threatened to slap cases against me if I did so. That was the first time I saw how the harmonious relationship between Hindus and Muslims in rural Bengal ran deep. Muslims in the riot-affected villages took me to an isolated Hindu household. They stood there guarding the women as the men in the family had all fled.

The Trinamool Congress (TMC) regime also tried to hush up communal flare-ups by referring to them as “minor incidents” till the violence that broke out during the Ram Navami processions in 2018 made it impossible to do so. There had been riots earlier too, triggered by local issues, but after 2018, communal divisions became visible. Riots began to take place at industrial centres where communities had lived together in harmony for centuries.

For journalists covering the TMC, it became evident that the party’s policies such as giving an honorarium to Imams had caused resentment. Years later, the State government announced an honorarium for priests too, to neutralise the negative impact, but the damage had already been done. Similarly, giving money to clubs for organising Durga Puja and allowing COVID-19 relaxations for certain festivals seem to have precipitated the situation.

Today, communal polarisation in West Bengal has become normal in the political discourse. It is not only evident in aggressive sloganeering of ‘Jai Shri Ram’, but also in political campaigning. For instance, when West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced her decision to contest from Nandigram in January 2021, BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari said she was relying on 62,000 votes while his party had the support of 2.13 lakh voters. He said at a public meeting that the lotus would bloom by Ram Navami. BJP leaders speak in hushed tones that they will make more political gains if their Rath Yatras (Parivartan Yatras) in all the 294 Assembly constituencies are stopped at any place by the administration or people from any other party.

But amidst the divide, there are also stories of hope. During the Basirhat riots of 2017, 65-year Kartik Ghosh was stabbed. His son, Prabhasish Ghosh, while rushing his father to a hospital in Kolkata, also took Fazlul Islam, another victim, in the same ambulance. While Ghosh died, Islam survived.

Similarly, in the Asansol riots of 2018, Maulana Imdadullah Rashidi urged people from his community to exercise restraint even after the Imam’s 16-year-son was killed in the riots. “I will leave the city if members of the community target the other community,” he said.

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Printable version | Apr 16, 2021 11:51:52 PM |

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