In West Bengal’s Malda district on Sunday, the Anjuman Ahle Sunnatul Jamat organised a rally to protest against comments made by Hindu Mahasabha leader Kamlesh Tiwari that many Muslims believe are an insult to the Prophet Mohammad. It was the latest in a string of demonstrations across the country against Tiwari's remarks. However, unlike most of the other rallies, Sunday’s event turned violent.
Protesters set fire to about two dozen vehicles, including one belonging to the Border Security Force. They proceeded to attack and ransack the Kaliachak police station, before setting it alight. The crowd is also reported to have torched several homes in the area. At least two people were injured, including a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh who reportedly tried to intervene and was shot in the leg. The police reportedly quelled the protests by firing blanks at the crowd. Ten people were arrested for their role in the violence. On Wednesday afternoon, a BJP MLA arrested in a preventive measure to keep the peace.
But as Pathankot continued to occupy centrestage, the conscience keepers of the media on social media started waggling their fingers: what about Malda?
As it turns out, while newspapers both at the regional and national level have kept a fairly steady eye on Malda, reportage has been somewhat low key and the episode has all but faded even from the regional news channels.
“We have done it deliberately,” said the editor of a major Bengali newspaper, who asked to remain unidentified. “This is already a crime-prone area and we didn’t feel it was important enough to be given so much publicity. This is a case of localised communal tension. We didn’t want to create a problem when there isn’t one. Some political parties have tried to build it up. We have ignored it. This is a conscious policy on our part.”
Flood of anarchy
Despite the claims of many on social media that newspapers have ignored the January 4 violence, the event was covered in both the national and regional press. The Indian Express on Monday reported how the rally started from the Muslim-dominated locality of Sujapur, which falls under the jurisdiction of Kaliachak police station. Five days earlier, Tiwari’s comments had been put up in the marketplace there. The report quoted Additional Superintendent Dilip Hazra, who speaks of a colossal crowd, 2.5 lakh strong, bearing down on the police station. The Hindu report had a more conservative estimate, at 30,000.
Among the Bengali newspapers, Anandabazar Patrika described a town silenced by fear as Trinamool Congress workers clashed among themselves, even 24 hours after the violence. Residents of Kaliachak raised doubts over the police’s capacity to maintain law and order, even alleging that they were complicit with the miscreants. It was the Left Front regime all over again, one person felt:
Meanwhile, Ei Samay spoke of the “flood of anarchy” unleashed in Kaliachak by a bunch of “hoodlums”:
When interviewed by the Express, however, one of the organisers of the rally insisted that theirs had been a peaceful protest. When they tried to burn an effigy of Tiwari outside the Kaliachak police station, however, they were lathi charged.
History of violence
Malda is no stranger to political violence and the TMC itself seems to be convulsed by dissensions within the party. Just last month, the 14-year-old son of an expelled TMC leader was killed in a turf war between warring factions.
In the days that followed, this episode acquired political resonance as well. A report in the Economic Times says the Bharatiya Janata Party has used it to target the TMC in poll-bound West Bengal. The ruling party in the state, the BJP alleged, was guilty of “rampaging communalism” in Malda, protecting and enabling the accused as they went on a spree of violence. The Congress, too, has joined the chorus, reported the Express. And according to this India Today report, the TMC, Congress as well as the CPI(M) have encouraged a strong anti-Hindu sentiment in the area.
But now the plot thickens. District officials have been quoted as saying that the district has a thriving racket in fake currency notes, which come in consignments from across the border. A police source said he suspected “anti-national elements” were behind the violence.