Basirhat Riots: Reject Hate, Strengthen Harmony

An offensive social media post triggering tension and violence is an unfortunate but fairly common occurrence in today’s India. But the story unfolding in and around the sleepy small town of Rudrapur in Baduria block near Basirhat and its ramifications for the whole of West Bengal go way beyond the common script or trajectory of communal tension we have grown accustomed to witness in our turbulent times. The derogatory post shared on Facebook by a school-going student Souvik Sarkar understandably offended the Muslim community and large-scale street protests ensued. The administration intervened and the boy was arrested by the police. The story could have ended here but the vested interests would not let go of this opportunity to stoke the communal fire and polarise the Bengal society. In an ominous echo of the lynch mob clamour for blood, a mob attacked Souvik’s house and set it on fire. Baduria and Deganga blocks and several pockets of Basirhat subdivision were gripped by communal violence.

But in the face of such heavy odds, we also saw some reassuring signs of human compassion and communal harmony. It was Souvik’s neighbour Amirul Islam (Amirul Chacha as Souvik and his friends would fondly call him) who saved him from the fury of the mob. Another Muslim neighbour Maqsud called the fire brigade. The ensuing clashes between TMC and BJP supporters injured several people and one of the injured, chicken seller Kartik Ghosh eventually died in North Kolkata’s  RG Kar Medical College and Hospital, but we must remember how Ghosh’s son Prabhashish had managed to save the life of his father’s injured friend Fazlul Islam. Defying the violence and chaos, Prabhashish had managed to bring both his father Kartik Ghosh and his friend Fazlul Islam to the hospital where Kartick unfortunately succumbed to his injuries. Peace marches and various other local initiatives are on to restore normalcy and rebuild mutual trust and harmony.

While West Bengal is thus trying to move on, the Sangh brigade is hell bent on exploiting this opportunity to the hilt to widen the communal divide and expand its network in the state. In a concerted move, the BJP IT cell has begun to flood the social media with fake news and images, attributing all of them to Basirhat and West Bengal. A video clip from a Bhojpuri film was used as a case of a woman being molested in West Bengal, a photograph of a couple from Bangladesh was posted as Souvik’s parents (Souvik’s mother is reported to have died long back when he was a child), even a well-known photograph from the Gujarat genocide was sought to be passed off as a picture of the Basirhat riots. This desperate manipulation of the social media is only a part of the overall BJP design to muddy the Bengal water and fish in it. With an RSS pracharak as the Governor of West Bengal, the BJP is trying to mount an all-out campaign for bringing West Bengal under President’s Rule.

The BJP is also drawing strength from Mamata Banerjee’s authoritarian and arbitrary style of governance. With her whimsical moves like announcement of allowances for Muslim clerics, Mamata has lent ground for the BJP’s pet bogey of ‘Muslim appeasement’. Her attempt to counter the BJP’s Hindu card by playing the Bengali language and nationality card (making Bengali compulsory in every school in West Bengal) played a big role in triggering the current phase of the Gorkhaland agitation and now the attempt to suppress the agitation by unleashing a brutal police crackdown has not only thoroughly alienated the hill people but also vitiated the socio-political climate in the entire state. Ironically, even as the BJP accuses Mamata of ‘appeasing Muslims’, her government has used the same ‘police crackdown’ strategy – killing two Muslim youths Mafijul and Alamgir and booking many activists under the draconian UAPA – to deal with the Bhangor agitation involving predominantly Muslim peasants. The more democracy is undermined by the authoritarian rule of Mamata Banerjee coupled with TMC hooliganism on the common people and the opposition, the more conducive the conditions become for the BJP’s communal agenda.

West Bengal has never experienced such heightened communal polarisation in the past. The glorious history of class-based social and political mobilisation in the state overpowered the communal venom at every major juncture, whether we recall the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984 or the communal frenzy whipped up by the BJP before and after the demolition of the Babri masjid. But the abandoning of the Left agenda by the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government – marked by its abject surrender to the trajectory of corporate-dictated ‘development’ coupled with its vulnerability to the Islamophobic discourse – created ideological space for the BJP, and now every failure and betrayal of the Mamata Banerjee government is further facilitating its growth. The aggressive mobilisation during this year’s Ram Navami celebration in April was a clear pointer to the growing organisational muscle of the RSS in West Bengal. Without a political negation of this majoritarian Hindutva offensive, peace will remain fragile in West Bengal. A powerful revival of the Left movement upholding the vibrant social tradition and political history of communal harmony and class unity is clearly the need of the hour.