KOLKATA: Pitched communal battles based on rumours being spread with unforeseen viciousness and ferocity by Hindu and Muslim fanatical groups in Basirhat, just about 100 km from Kolkata has exposed the faultlines in the body polity exploited by unscrupulous political interests.
Even at this moment, the fourth day since the violence erupted over a Facebook post, violence continues with the political leaders in the state capital also unable to differentiate any longer between the lie and the truth. Rumours are spreading so fast, and so furiously, of deaths and injuries and new attacks, that responsible politicians openly admit that they have little idea now of what is happening in the interiors of the state.
CPI(M) leader Mohammed Salim, well respected in the state regardless of political affiliation, said that reports could no longer be believed without adequate verification as rumours are flying, and distorted news is replacing facts. He said that except for the armed police forces Basirhat is almost sealed off, with political leaders unable to enter, and the state government invisible. “Mamata Banerjee and the BJP have been stoking the fires of communalism and these kind of incidents have been reported at different levels for the past few years, almost two or three such clashes of different magnitude each year,” Salim maintained.
In this case a Facebook morphed image of the Prophet allegedly by a schoolboy was almost immediately flashed across the social media, resulting in large Muslim mobilisation. In what became pitched battles between the two communities at the first instance in Badurai, (from where it spread to Basirhat and adjoining areas), the state government disappeared, and the extremists on both sides took over. The Muslims protested, indulged in violence and arson, demanding the boy be arrested. The state government initially arrested a family member that did not assuage the Muslim mobs, being instigated by various religious outfits. The schoolboy was detained later and claimed that he had not put up the post as he had lost his SIM card.
The Muslim mobs, however, were uncontrollable and wanted the police to hand over the boy to them. As local Muslims openly critical of this violence told the local media, the instigated Muslim mob attacked the family’s house in Baduria, vandalised it and set it ablaze in a terrifying show of violence. Fortunately the boy and his family were not in the house, having been arrested by the police by then.The mobs went on an orgy of violence and arson subsequently.
By the second day, the Hindu mobs instigated by rumours on the social media of the attacks, had taken over the ground with both communities pitched against each other while the state government watched. Rumours of all kinds swept the area, almost inciting a civil war in the area. Salim said that a RSS supported organisation Hindu Sanati was reportedly at the head of the propaganda, mobilising the community on the basis of such rumours. Trains were dislocated, with mobs of both communities out despite the police force.
This, Salim said, has been the first time that communal violence has been reported from rural Bengal and that too with such intensity, since Independence. And even during the Partition Basirhat remained incident free. Sources from the state said that the government had lost the plot and instead of taking action, rushing political representatives to the village urging calm, Mamata Banerjee went indoors.
On the third day of the violence, she held a press conference but did not speak of the measures taken to restore calm, and instead shared details of her spat with the state Governor.The media attention shifted almost entirely to the CM vs Governor story, but then as a Congress leader from the state said, “perhaps thats not such a bad thing given the damage the media does.”
However, the area has been sealed not by the security forces but by the mobs of both communities who continue to torch vehicles, throw petrol bombs, and gut whatever they can lay their hands on. Last night was the first when widespread clashes were not reported but although the Army has been deployed in North 24 Parganas the situation is far from normal.
Salim said that both the Trinamool Congress and the BJP were playing divisive politics. Added to by the various community organisations have become particularly active in the region, aided and encouraged by the so called mainstream political parties. Banerjee is trying hard to retain control over the state even as the BJP unable to make major inroads in the civic elections, has upped the ante on the communal front as well. The Congress is non-existent, and the battered CPI(M) largely ineffective.
However, Salim said that efforts were on by not just his party but civil rights and organisations to ensure that the polarisation did not spread beyond the affected belt. Everyone is working day and night to counter rumours and convince their specific areas of influence not to be taken in by the communalists of all hues, he told The Citizen. In his view “there are positive stories as well as many here know and understand what is happening and why.”
The situation is far from normal towards the fourth day of the violence with isolated incidents now being reported though, instead of mob clashes. However, the damage done is still to be assessed as the Internet services have been snapped, and no one outside the men in uniform has been able to enter the villages to assess the situation.