NEW DELHI,ARGHYA ROY CHOWDHURY: Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said no one guilty of violence in Malda would be spared, in his speech in West Bengal on Thursday. (Isn’t law and order a state subject?) If this is any indication, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is all set to make the issue a major poll plank in the upcoming Assembly election slated to take place in less than three months.
Both Gadkari on Monday and Rajnath on Thursday clearly indicated that the party is unlikely to let the Malda incident slip, linking it to a breach of national security, general lawlessness and, as Kailash Vijayvargiya had underlined, making it an example of minority appeasement politics played by Mamata Banerjee.
On January 3, a raucous mob of nearly a lakh protested against alleged blasphemous statements made by Hindu Mahasabha leader Kamlesh Tiwary in Kaliachak, located in Malda district of West Bengal. The protest soon got violent and after an altercation with BSF, the mob burnt down a police station. Two people were critically injured in the rampage. The incident, first ignored by the local media, slowly gained momentum after social media campaigns and has been suitably appropriated by the BJP to attack the state government. Mamata Banerjee, for her part, has said that it was not a communal incident and was the result of a stand-off between the BSF and the locals.
While there have been muted protest from Congress and the Left, it is the BJP which has made the loudest noise, roping in big national leaders and reaching out to the President to take swift action. In a state where the saffron outfit has made very little breakthrough so far, the party is trying to bet big on this incident to firm up its vote bank at this crucial juncture. However, despite the Twitter chatter and trending hashtags by our ‘super patriotic’ netizens, the buzz on the ground is abysmally low. Unlike the Singur and Nandigram incidents, which catapulted Mamata Banerjee to power after she was virtually relegated to political oblivion in 2006, BJP will have to work really hard to extract any major political leverage from the Malda violence.
1. No local leadership
This is a chronic problem of the BJP in West Bengal, which it is yet to overcome. The last tall leader of BJP from the state was Tapan Shikdar. The party has failed to produce any mass leader from the grassroots who can carry forward the intensity and tone of the protest set by its national leaders. The RSS may be rapidly increasing its strength in West Bengal, but parachuting a politically unknown face as the state BJP President has not really helped the cause of the party in the state. There is no state leader as of now to take on the might of the fiery didi. Hence, sustained pressure is unlikely to be built by BJP to put Mamata Banerjee on the defensive and build a public opinion against her.
2. Prevailing equations in Malda
Malda is the home of late Union Minister Abu Barkat Ghani Khan Choudhury. Malda became a Congress bastion under him and even after his death, his family continues to rule the roost. The Left also has a sizeable political presence here and TMC is slowly but steadily gaining foothold. With an impending Congress-Left tie-up, there may be very little space for BJP politically, even if it is hoping for polarisation of votes on religious lines.
3. Malda is not Bengal
The issue of minority appeasement and infiltration of illegal Bangladeshis, which the top BJP leaders constantly harp about, may be a factor in a border district like Malda, but it is unlikely to find much resonance with the electorate in general who are more concerned about other burning issues that plague the state. Hence, BJP needs a saner, more nuanced strategy because the electorate hasn’t shown an inclination to warm up to such high-decibel campaigning in the past.
4. Facts don’t add up
If you only believe social media chatter, West Bengal is on its way to becoming the next Kashmir, where the Kashmiri Pandits had to leave the state. But this hysteria on social media is not matched by figures furnished by the central government! According to Home Ministry data, eight states contribute to 85% of all the communal incidents in India. The list includes states like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, but West Bengal doesn’t feature in the list of states most prone to communal violence. Don’t expect the ‘Hindus are persecuted’ rhetoric to come from Bengal anytime soon.
That doesn’t mean there are no cases of riots in the state or that the Mamata government hasn’t been complicit with police sometimes to look the other way when criminals from minority community have been involved. But it hasn’t reached a level where people will dump the traditional powerhouses for a majoritarian brand of politics.
5. The lack of reportage in local media
In both the Singur and the Nandigram agitations, the local press played a pertinent role in amplifying the protest led by Mamata Banerjee. Sadly for the BJP, the Malda violence with its communal undertones is an almost no-go zone for the vernacular press which has only reported it sporadically. So all the social media protest is probably speaking to the converted without attracting new eyeballs, the target base BJP is looking to reach in West Bengal.
Hence, the Malda agitation is unlikely to put BJP in West Bengal’s political map. However, the party had to start from somewhere and if this can even lead to discovering one or two local leaders with the potential to rock Mamata’s boat in future elections, the entire exercise may be worth it to an extent.