'People are tense. The morale of the perpetrators of the Kaliachak attack is very high.'
'People there fear that if the arsonists there could burn the police station today, they can burn the courts tomorrow; they will burn the collectorate.'
Surendrajeet Singh Ahluwalia, the BJP MP from West Bengal's Darjeeling Lok Sabha constituency, who was part of a three-member team that were sent back from the railway station on January 11 by the Malda district magistrate, tells Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Bannerjee should arrest those responsible for burning down a police station and attacking Hindus in the area.
What is the situation in Malda? What are local BJP workers telling you?
Wherever in India, whether it be Kashmir, Kanyakumari, Kutch or Kohima, the counterfeit currency notes or their couriers are caught the investigators find a connection with this area (Malda and Kaliachak).
Most of the couriers as well as the suppliers of counterfeit currency notes, somehow or other, find a link with Kaliachak. This shows the presence of a conduit that is working from here.
We were told that the NIA (National Investigation Agency) was looking into this angle. In the recent past, the information they got from different states show a link with this area.
The other issue is that of poppy cultivation in Malda.
So, there is a drugs and counterfeit nexus operating out of this area, which in turn is also linked with terrorism in India.
The point is something happened in the first week of December in Uttar Pradesh, where one Kamlesh Tiwari uttered bad words about the Prophet. It is a very unfortunate thing and the law took action and he was arrested.
After that some spontaneous agitations took place in some places, but not in such an ugly manner (as in Kaliachak, Malda).
Under the garb of this remark (by Tiwari) some organisations there had organised protests, and the entire country is surprised that the state police, the district administration and state intelligence did not have any inkling that such a mammoth gathering was happening on the streets of Kaliachak.
More than 100,000 people were marching in the streets for hours together and there was no advance information about this? Or they (the state government) might have had the information but they quietly allowed them to proceed with their act?
When such a massive rally happens without the permission of the district authorities that in itself a criminal act.
This criminal intent is established when they attacked the Kaliachak police station and targetted the record room where all the investigation reports were kept.
Investigation reports of the local authorities?
Not the records of investigations done by the NIA?
Even the NIA cannot do much without the help of the local authorities (in their investigations). Following federal laws the NIA cannot go on their own. They have to inform the local authorities.
There are history sheeters and their track records was all there in the police station. All those records were burnt to ashes.
Who could have been behind this burning of the police station and records of history sheeters?
I am not naming anybody, but this crowd was organised by somebody.
Are you saying the state government did not abet this gathering?
You are jumping the gun and you are trying to put words in my mouth.
I am saying you are not alleging that the state government is involved...
No, no, I am saying this (that the state government is involved). I am also saying that this is a total failure of the state machinery.
More than a lakh people marching in the streets and you are being a mere spectator.
While you say the state intelligence agencies and district administration failed in anticipating such a large gathering, wouldn't even a central intelligence agency like the Intelligence Bureau not know of such a massive gathering and raise an alarm?
Kaliachak is a border area and there must be a lot of IB agents out there in the field...
Who do these central intelligence agencies report to?
To the central government...
Usually, what do they do? When there is a fire, you need fire fighting equipment...
While one understands that state intelligence failed in its duties or as you say they could have informed the West Bengal government but they did nothing about it, why didn't the central intelligence agencies inform the Centre about this gathering?
Didn't they also fail to gather anything about what was likely to happen in Kaliachak when this protest was announced?
I am not privy to whether they (the central intelligence agencies) got this information or not. Even if they get information, what will they do?
Even the Centre will have to inform Kolkata. Ultimately, the state government had to act against this carnage.
Couldn't the Centre have asked the governor to look into the matter?
I am not that aware because I am not part of the government. I am a member of Parliament and I can only raise certain questions.
What was the objective of your visit to Malda and from there to Kaliachak?
Our objective was to find out the reality on the ground and to meet the affected people because this incident is not simply about the burning down of a police station, but they (the crowd) simultaneously attacked a mohalla (neighbourhood) dominated by non-Muslims.
You want to say the Hindus in Kaliachak were targetted by this mob...
(Angrily) Non-Muslims means what? In that area, it means only Hindus. But I don't want to comment on anybody's religion here.
What I am saying is those whose houses were attacked belonged to a religion just opposite to those of the attackers. But when these attackers demolish some houses and beat the people in this area, then the communal angle comes into play. Also, they did not attack the houses or shops of their own community.
So, there was a clear communal angle to this protest which you are saying was organised and not spontaneous?
In this act (attack on Hindu houses) it was. In the act of burning down of the police station, it was a criminal act to destroy the records.
Kaliachak then is a mix of communal and criminal violence?
The third point is they (the state government) are saying that it was an issue between the BSF (Border Security Force) and the local people.
When I asked about this to the DM and SP (district magistrate and superintendent of police of Malda respectively) if the crowd was angry with the BSF because their opium crops were destroyed by the BSF, they said (the SP and DM) that it was done by them.
When I asked them if this area is notorious for foreign counterfeit currencies, opium trade and human trafficking, they agreed. Then they said they don't want to divulge the information under investigation, which is fair enough.
But we wanted to meet the local people (of Kaliachak) and those who wanted to meet us.
Third, we wanted to interact with the peace committee (which it was said the district authorities had formed after the protest on January 3).
Because on the 3rd (January) I was travelling in north West Bengal with (Union Minister) Nirmala Sitharaman and we were in the interior area of some tea garden when I got a call from my followers that this is happening in Kaliachak.
I immediately called the SP and the DM and the DM confirmed this incident, but assured me that the state authorities were in control of the situation.
I had then no information that the record room of the police station was attacked. The police officers and constables ran out of the police station to save their lives, took shelter at some civilians' houses and changed their uniforms because they were so scared. Even the women women constables did the same.
I asked the DM to send the SP and immediately book the culprits. I also asked that the affected people should be compensated for their losses and the state government should take measures to restore the confidence of the affected people.
Then I asked them to constitute a peace committee to restore people's confidence and assure them their lives and property were secure. They said it was done.
So, when we reached Malda we told the district officials that we wanted to meet the members of the peace committee. But they did not even allow us to meet the peace committee members.
Now Mamata Bannerjee says from Kolkata that everything is normal and there was nothing communal to the Kaliachak attacks.
She has stated that only one person was injured...
One person injured with a bullet and that too not a police bullet. We were informed that the protesters were brandishing pistols, revolvers, swords and petrol bombs. How can people brandish these things spontaneously?
Now they have painted the police station afresh -- it now looks like a new building -- and claiming that nothing had happened.
All the burnt vehicles -- police cars, motorcycles and other vehicles -- have been moved 20 km away from Kaliachak at the backyard of some government office.
The state government is creating a scene to show that no violence happened in Kaliachak?
Trinamool Congress MP Derek O Brien says the BJP and RSS wants to stoke communal passions in West Bengal ahead of the assembly election in the state.
The Baliadanga mohalla, which these people attacked with communal intention, no action has been taken against these elements. Nobody has gone there (to meet the affected people) and they have arrested only 11 people including some victims.
The main culprits, those who organised this so-called protest who are known to be behind these foreign currency counterfeit racket and narcotics are at large. Nobody is touching them.
My answer to (Derek O Brien) is very simple. What allows a lakh of people to gather at one place, ransack a police station, burn down vehicles and record rooms, attack a mohalla predominantly belonging to non-Muslims and then the chief minister states that this incident is about a small issue between the local people and the BSF!
That means this is the appeasement policy of the West Bengal government.
Sitting in Kolkata it is very easy to give out such statements.
Those who had gathered in lakhs and attacked a mohalla and police station. I am talking about them only.
Is the BJP not adding fuel to the fire?
Arre bhai, do you know the demography of Kaliachak? 85 per cent Muslim. What will we do with 15 per cent?
Was your visit to Malda not about the West Bengal assembly election?
Every time there is an election. After the state election there will be panchayat election and after panchayat election there will be municipal election.
Does this mean we shall not raise our voice against the injustice done to the people of that district?
I represent the BJP from north Bengal. My constituency Darjeeling is very near.
I belong to the minority community. Why will I go there with a communal agenda? For me and my party the interests of any Indian, irrespective of her/his community, is closer to our heart.
Why did you visit Malda when you knew that the district administration had imposed Section 144 there?
Exactly. When madam chief minister said everything is normal in Malda, then what was the need to impose Section 144?
Normal means there should be no Section 144. I am told it was only promulgated when our names were announced.
Section 144 was imposed to hold you back from visiting Kaliachak?
The area of the incident is about 35 km away from the railway station. When we said we would like to go to the Circuit House they refused permission saying that it would lead to (law and order) problems.
When we told them that if everything is normal, then what is the problem in us visiting the Circuit House? Even then Section 144 was imposed just in Kaliachak, not in the entire district.
Bazaars were open, vehicles were plying on the road and we thought that 144 meant assembly of more than five people is not allowed. So, those 72 people in the bus were not violating Section 144?
They said you are public figures and by seeing you people will get restless.
What is your next plan of action now that you were not allowed to visit Kaliachak?
We will submit our report to the president of the party. I am sure the state government is trying to hide lot of things from the people of West Bengal.
What exactly is happening in Kaliachak and Malda today?
People are tense. The morale of the perpetrators of the Kaliachak attack is very high. People there fear that if the arsonists there could burn the police station today, they can burn the courts tomorrow; they will burn the collectorate.
Nobody there fears the rule of law.
What do you expect from the chief minister?
She must visit Kaliachak and restore the confidence of the minority Hindu community in the district and assure them about their life and property. She must assure the people of the state that she will book the culprits and punish them according to the law.