The Big Story: Bringing calm
In West Bengal’s Basirhat region, communal tensions have gripped the area since Sunday, sparked by a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad. This led to Muslim mobs setting Hindu-owned property on fire and clashing with the local police. On Thursday, Hindu mobs attacked a dargah and property belonging to Muslims.
In this, as the local administration has struggled to keep the peace, the role of the Bharatiya Janata Party leaves much to be desired. The BJP is a party on the move in West Bengal. In the 2016 Assembly elections, the party managed a respectable 10.2% of the vote share. In the 2017 Kanthi Dakshin bye-poll, the BJP came second with 31% of the vote share. Given the disarray of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the BJP fancies it can become the main opposition in West Bengal.
There is nothing wrong with political ambition. But what is worrying is the route the BJP is taking to reach its goal: open communalisation. In West Bengal, the BJP is not shy as identifying openly as a Hindu party, feeding off conflict in the state. In April, West Bengal witnessed the unusual sight of a political party organising a religious festival, with the BJP conducting Ram Navami marches across the state. Moreover, most of these ostensibly religious marches were held with weapons.
In the Basirhat riots, even as the area remains on a knife-edge, the BJP has jumped into the situation with a clear intention to stir the pot rather than help bring peace. On Tuesday, as report of violence started to come in, the BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya claimed, without any proof, that women had been raped – a highly incendiary allegation to make in the middle of communal tension. The BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra also made the false claim that “we cannot have Kali puja in Bengal”, comparing Hindus in West Bengal to Kashmiris Pandits – a comparison designed to sharply polarise society.
The partisan politics of the BJP now means that even the post of the governor has not been spared with the Raj Bhavans of West Bengal as well as Tripura attacking the Trinamool politically. In this maelstrom, the BJP has announced that a team of three MPs will be visiting Basirhat.
The BJP, as a party, does well politically whenever there is communal violence – in fact, there is a statistical correlation between the BJP’s poll gains and riots. Yet, the BJP is now the largest party across the Indian Union, ruling in New Delhi and has 13 chief ministers in its kitty. For a party of the BJP’s stature to descend to the crassest communal politics might be good for it in the short term, but it will be disastrous for West Bengal overall. Now is not the time for partisan politics – instead the BJP should wait for calm to return to Basirhat before looking to profit electorally from the situation.
The Big Scroll
- No one believes a Class 12 student could have created Facebook image that sparked violence in Bengal, reports Subrata Nagchoudhury from the ground.
- Subrata Nagchoudhury also finds that in riot-hit Basirhat, BJP officials claim a surge in membership.
- Lynchings draw upon the master narrative of cow protection promoted by the current political elites, argues Ashutosh Varshney in the Indian Express.
- In Sikkim, India should respond to Chinese rhetoric with calm and patience, explains Srikanth Kondapalli in the Hindustan Times.
- Indian cities must fix the mismatch between grandiose memorials and what really happened, writes Gautam Bhatia in the Times of India.
In Assam, six communities demanding scheduled tribe status accuse the BJP of betraying its promise to them, reports Arunabh Saikia.
According to the 2011 Census, Assam’s population is 31 million (3.1 crore). Currently, the tribal population of the state is estimated to be around four million (40 lakh), accounting for little less than 13% of the state’s total population. If and when these six communities are extended Scheduled Tribe status, the state’s tribal population is expected to balloon to over 50% of the total population.
If this happens, the number of Assembly seats reserved for tribals in the 126-seat state legislature will increase considerably. This, analysts predict, may lead to parties like the Muslim-centric All India United Democratic Front, perceived to gain its political currency largely from the allegedly immigrant Muslim migrants, being rendered insignificant.