'My party men discouraged me from visiting Kaliachak because all kind of people were part of the mob and they feared that someone could shoot at me.'
'Criminals were involved in burning the police station and then attacking Baliadanga to give it a communal colour.'
The three-time Member of Parliament from Maldaha Dakshin (Malda South), Abu Hasem Khan Chadhury, in whose Lok Sabha constituency riot-affected Kaliachak in West Bengal falls, gives Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com graphic details of what happened on January 3 between the police and the mob that was protesting an insult to Prophet Mohammed.
Did you visit Kaliachak after the January 3 incident?
I am the MP from South Malda and Kaliachak is part of my constituency.
What's the situation in Kaliachak now?
I see very little problem there. There is nothing serious there right now.
Was the January 3 incident a communal incident?
Not at all. There was this person who said something offensive against Prophet Mohammed and there was some call from mosques in the area asking people to gather, but they gathered in large numbers unexpectedly.
Unexpectedly? Didn't the Edara-e-Shariyah organise the protest on January 3?
The call was given after azaan from some mosques to gather on such and such date to protest against ill words spoken of the Prophet. Neither the organisers or the police had expected such a huge crowd would gather to protest.
While the mob was coming from National Highway 34 they encountered a BSF (Border Security Force) truck passing along the road. The restless people in the gathering started thumping the cars and the trucks on the road.
One of the BSF officers fired in the air to scare and disperse the crowd when their truck was stopped.
Why did the people stop the BSF truck?
The crowd did not realise that it was a BSF truck and so could have stopped it. There were so many people on the road shouting slogans that it is possible some of them could have stopped the truck.
There were around three to four officers in the truck. They thought it was a truck of TMC (Trinamool Congress) supporters and so they stopped it. Their anger was directed at the state machinery. The TMC has been ruling and ruining West Bengal for almost four-and-a-half years now.
Wouldn't the protesters have realised that there were BSF personnel in the truck?
Once they realised that the truck belonged to the BSF they went their way without causing much trouble. Then this mob went to the police station.
How did the fire at the police station occur?
Some young angry people burnt the police station. They also burnt some documents kept inside the record room.
After three, four hours, I came to know about the incident. I called the Congress people there and told them I wanted to visit the place to calm tempers and find out the reason behind this arson.
They discouraged me from visiting Kaliachak because all kind of people were part of the mob and they feared that someone could shoot at me.
On January 3 I was at my home, some 35 km away from Kaliachak. I had come there from Kolkata the same morning and was resting when this incident occurred. When I came to know about this I called the DSP (District Superintendent of Police) and he suggested I should visit Kaliachak after an hour or two as he too feared for my safety.
He (the DSP) called me after two hours, telling me I could visit Kaliachak as the situation was under control. I reached Kaliachak around 7.30 pm, almost three hours after the incident happened.
What happened at Kaliachak?
There are lots of criminals who are part of this government. I think it is the handiwork of these criminals who wanted to eliminate proof of their crimes that was in the record room.
The records were about narcotics producers and suppliers and those who dealt in counterfeit currency across the border.
There are reports that the mob, after burning down the record room, attacked Baliadanga, a predominantly Hindu locality.
It was really a small portion of the mob (who did it). Most of the crowd had started dispersing after the police station arson.
The organisers too realised that the crowd had become too big. I have been told they started asking people to stay calm and return home using loudspeakers. They told the gathering that the protest rally was over and now they should go back to their homes.
There have been lots of criminals in that area (Kaliachak) for a long time. The state was run by the CPM (the Communist Party of India-Marxist) for 34 years and for the last four-and-a-half years by the TMC.
These criminals shifted their allegiance to the TMC after the CPM was defeated because these criminals want support from the ruling party to carry on with their criminal activities.
I met many people in Kaliachak -- people of different communities and they have told me that the criminals were involved in burning the police station and then attacking Baliadanga to give it a communal colour.
Did you visit the Hindu houses that were attacked by this mob?
These houses were very close to the police station and when the police started firing at the mob burning the police station this crowd dispersed and entered the Baliadanga area. Only one house was attacked and one person was injured by a bullet.
It wasn't a police bullet, was it? The mob fired at him...
I was told many Muslim girls who were scared by this rioting took shelter in Hindu houses. They were scared of this mob. They were caught unawares. Nobody knew what was going on.
Hindus in that area were scared by this mob. It was a natural reaction as nobody knew what was happening.
One Hindu lawyer told me a lot of Muslim girls took shelter in his house. He assured them of their safety and asked them not to panic.
Did you visit people whose houses were attacked by the mob in Baliadanga?
No houses were attacked.
But S S Ahluwalia, the BJP MP from Darjeeling, who we spoke with, said he was told that Hindu houses were attacked by the mob...
It is very unfortunate that Ahluwalia said this without actually visiting the area based on just what his people told him.
Was it proper on the part of the West Bengal government to not allow the three-MP BJP team to visit Kaliachak?
It is not only the BJP. CPM and Congress leaders too were not allowed to enter the area. Even the state Congress president was not allowed to go there. I was allowed to visit Kaliachal the same day because I am the MP from there and the people and police there know me.
They knew I would calm the situation and assure the people of all communities about their safety and not foment trouble.
Did you visit the affected people? Whoever was affected?
I visited a lot of people belonging to both communities and assured them they were all safe and secure. I told them I would be the first person to get shot at, if at all something were to go wrong.
Did you visit the house of the person who suffered the bullet injury?
Yes. I met his parents. He is doing fine now; he is a young person. I met him (the person who suffered the bullet injury) personally.
His parents told me they did not know who fired the bullet at him in that melee. There was an exchange (of fire) between the police and the mob, which had attacked the police station.
Is the BJP trying to play the communal card in West Bengal?
We all know that elections are around the corner in the state. It is unfortunate they are trying to give it a Hindu versus Muslim colour. I rebuked the Muslim people of my constituency even yesterday (January 17) for not telling me that the situation had reached a stage where a lakh (100,000) people would join the protest.
Isn't that a failure of the state government?
Absolutely! Even they failed to fathom the situation. But let me tell you that the organisers had intimated the police and the district administration that there would be a gathering, but enough police was not posted to handle the protest.
I asked the local police station why they didn't inform the SP about such a gathering when the organisers had already told you about the protest in advance. At least they should have sent the police to protect the police station.