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Sai's Take: The Bengal tinder box

Last updated on: May 15, 2019 14:04 IST
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Violence has always been a fact of life in Bengal's politics; it is just that the faces have changed, the contesting ideologies have changed. What hasn't changed is the fact that parties have found violence to be a handy tool, says Saisuresh Sivawamy.

IMAGE: A wounded BJP supporter is rushed for treatment after violence erupted during BJP president Amit Shah's road show in Kolkata on Tuesday. Photograph: ANI Photo

Tuesday's violence on the streets of Kolkata has led to the expected trading of charges and counter-charges between the ruling Trinamool Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of the TMC believes the BJP is a party of goondas who have infiltrated her state with the single aim of disrupting her government and overthrowing it, violence being their main tool of trade.

The BJP on the other hand accuses Mamata of running the state as an autocracy where Hindus, Hindu festivals and Hindu issues are suppressed and tries to cast itself in the role of the great Hindu liberator.


In all the high drama surrounding the politically crucial state which sends 42 members of Parliament to the Lok Sabha, one fact is being missed out.

Violence has always been a fact of life in Bengal's politics; it is just that the faces have changed, the contesting ideologies have changed.  What hasn't changed is the fact that parties have found violence to be a handy tool.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, talking to NewsX in yet another interview on the sidelines of his election rally, blamed the media as well for ignoring the violence unleashed by the ruling party in Bengal.

'Not just in this election, we have been raising the issue of violence even during the local body polls in the state, but you media people did not take it seriously, maybe because the violence was directed at the BJP,' he said. In other words, you cannot escape your share of the blame for what is happening.

What this ignores is that the cycle of violence in Bengal did not begin with the TMC; it goes back to the Left Front days when its goons unleashed a reign of terror in the countryside. As the principal opposition party in the state, the Congress bore the brunt of it.

One of its young leaders, brought into politics by Rajiv Gandhi, felt that the party was not fighting the Left's tyranny adequately, and chose to break away and form her own party. That, in brief, is the story of Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress.

It was her aggressive counter to the Left Front that ultimately led to the fall of the Marxist citadel in the state, with its rank and file migrating to the Trinamool where they continue to indulge in the same violence they did earlier. So yes, the faces have changed, nothing else has.

Today the BJP believes it is in the same position where Mamata herself was, and is merely taking a page out of her book.

Sai's Take

The busiest man in all of Bengal on Tuesday evening must have been the Trinamool's Rajya Sabha member, Derek O'Brien, who could be seen video-linking to NDTV's Nidhi Razdan, to Rajdeep Sardesai on India Today TV and with CNN News 18.

The essence of the articulate MP's outbursts was the same. The BJP is a party of goons, it has unleashed violence because it is going nowhere in the state, and the Trinamool will counter it every step of the way.

'Bengal will give out a loud message when the ballot boxes are opened on May 23 and we will win all the seats in the state,' he thundered on TV.

But hasn't the BJP been making inroads into the state, making electoral gains, even emerging as the second party after the TMC?

'It's like a tennis player who has been losing 6-0, 6-0, 6-0 now feeling happy because the scoreline has become 6-1, 6-1, 6-1,' Derek told Rajdeep.

But Arnab Goswami on Republic TV, leading with the hashtag #ShahRallyTargeted, felt differently.

'The entire country today is ashamed of the TMC.' A quick survey on WhatsApp showed no such sentiment, with most not even aware of the unfolding drama in Kolkata, but that is okay.

'Where is Naseeruddin Shah?' he thundered. 'Where is the award wapsi gang? Why are they silent today?'

While Navika Kumar on Times Now wanted to know where the 'Khan Market gang' was -- but she was focusing not on Bengal's plight but on one Bengali's. Specifically, BJP activist Priyanka Sharma who was released from jail by the Supreme Court after the police took action against her for sharing an uncomplimentary meme of Mamata Banerjee.

When Nidhi Razdan quizzed Derek about it, since she knew that 'personally he was a supporter of the liberal cause', he chose to fret and fume at the Kolkata showdown instead, choosing to merely say that the police have closed the case against her after the Supreme Court's intervention, 'so that's it'.

Navika flayed the police action against Priyanka Sharma for its 'chilling effect on freedom of speech/expression', a convenient fig leaf that is invoked by a partisan media depending on who is the offender and who the offended. If you keep watching TV news you will realise how easily the hard-won right is bandied about.

Political analyst Shantanu Gupta wanted to know on NDTV if Mamata Banerjee was running a separatist movement in her state.

Just think about it, 'the Central Bureau of Investigation cannot work in Bengal, the prime minister's helicopter cannot land there, he cannot call her, if he did she won't answer him, the state refuses to share data for the PM-KISAN Yojana, Ayushman Bharat is not implemented there', which leads to the question whether it considers itself as a part of India, a point echoed by BJP president Amit Shah subsequently when he said if he was considered an 'outsider' in Bengal, can Mamata be considered one when she visited Delhi?

What is unfolding in Bengal, Shantanu Gupta was clear, resembled scenes from a Prakash Jha film.

His claims were rebuffed by TMC supporter Garga Chatterjee who was confident that 'Bengal is the BJP's Waterloo'.

In all the extreme views being aired on various channels, some semblance of moderation came from the Congress party, perhaps because it has no skin in the game being played in Bengal.

Jaiveer Shergill spoke of the history of political violence in the state, before going on to conclude: 'All political parties are guilty.'

Yes, but to paraphrase George Orwell in Animal Farm, some parties are more guilty than others.

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