Kolkata: Two back-to-back attacks on BJP leaders this week brought the focus back on the ignominious culture of political violence in West Bengal, an ominous sign before the ensuing assembly elections.
BJP state spokesperson and former party MLA Samik Bhattacharya’s vehicle was attacked on Tuesday evening when he was on his way to Diamond Harbour in South 24 Parganas district to take part in a party programme to explain the benefits of the recent legislations brought by the Centre to ‘reform’ the farm sector.
In the attack, the windshield of his car was smashed, the driver sustained injuries while the former MLA escaped with minor cuts.
The BJP claimed a mob of 150-200 Trinamool Congress workers attacked the vehicle with iron rods and bricks, dragged out Bhattacharya from the car and abused him.
“Now they (people) have vandalized the car… in near future people will break the bones of the BJP leaders to vent their ire over the gang rape and assault of the Dalit girl in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras,” Saikat Mollah, a TMC leader of the area, was heard as saying to local television channels soon after the incident.
Senior TMC leaders Firhad Hakim and Rajib Bandyopadhyay said proper inquiry would be done into the incident and the guilty would be punished, adding the attack could also be the outcome of internal conflicts within the BJP.
The attack on the former MLA comes less than 48 hours after BJP councillor Manish Shukla was gunned down in Titagarh in North 24 Parganas district.
Shukla, 40, was a close associate of BJP MP Arjun Singh whose defection to the saffron camp ahead of the last year’s Lok Sabha elections set in motion a trail of violence in the Bengal’s industrial belts of Barrackpore, Titagarh, Kanchrapara, Halisahar, Naihati, Bhatpara and others dotted on the banks of Hooghly River.
Shukla, who had several criminal cases pending against him including that of murder and attempt to murder, was shot dead on Sunday night by four motorcycle-borne masked assailants at Titagarh around 20 km north of Kolkata.
The incident took place just 54 metres away from the Titagarh police station, putting police’s role under the scanner.
The Criminal Investigation Department has arrested three persons in connection with the murder, which the police suspect was fallout of a personal enmity.
A local businessman Mohammed Khurram and sharpshooter Seikh Gulab were arrested on Tuesday while third person Nazir Khan, a close associate of Khurram, was arrested on early Wednesday.
The needle of suspicion pointed to Khurram as Shukla was among the accused in the 2010 murder of former’s father Mohammed Ismail, a local CPI(M) leader. The CID sleuths suspect Khurram had hired Gulab for the murder to avenge his father’s killing ten years ago, a possibility that sounds too filmy.
Khan, the third arrestee, reportedly did the recce of the area. Shukla’s father, Chandra Mani Shukla, a doctor by profession, refused to buy the police’s version of the murder being plotted by Khurram, a local businessman.
In his FIR lodged with the Titagarh police, he named seven persons including two TMC leaders – Uttam Das and Prasanta Chowdhury – the immediate past chairmen of Barrackpore and Titagarh municipalities respectively, echoing the BJP’s allegations that it was a political murder masterminded by ruling TMC leaders.
The party demanded a CBI inquiry into the incident while the West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar, who never misses an opportunity to stir controversy, accused the state police of trying to cover up the murder.
The TMC, as expected, rubbished the allegations and even hinted that the killing could be the result of an internal feud within the BJP.
Senior TMC leader and cabinet minister Firhad Hakim claimed that Shukla had wanted to return to the TMC.
Pointing out that Arjun Singh was travelling on Shukla’s vehicle before the shooting took place, Hakim asked what made Singh to suddenly change his mind that made him to leave the vehicle to proceed to Kolkata.
Questions were also raised as to how the assailants knew that both the personal security guards of Shukla would be on leave on that very day and that the BJP leader would be unarmed as the licence of his pistol that he used to always carry for personal safety was cancelled about eight months ago.
Singh, when contacted, said he had to get off the vehicle to leave for Kolkata after getting a call from senior party leader Kailash Vijayvargiya otherwise there would have been more than one death.
Singh had alleged a couple of months ago that police were trying to kill him in an encounter.
Shukla’s, however, is not the first high-profile political death in the state this year. Earlier, in July BJP legislator from Hemtabad in Uttar Dinajpur was found dead hanging in front of a tea shop near his house.
The police said it was a case of suicide, while the BJP accused the TMC of killing the MLA.
Before and between these high-profile cases, there had been many other incidents of political clashes and even killings of low-rung activists of different political parties, putting a serious question mark on the state’s law-and-order situation, which is under the direct control of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee as she also holds the home portfolio.
Politically too, the rise of violence does not augur well for the ruling party. Already the incidents have given the BJP an opportunity to up its ante against the alleged collapse of law-and-order machinery and also compelled the other two opposition parties the CPI (M) and the Congress to raise the same concern.
“Political killings must stop in Bengal. Those from opposition parties should be treated as opponents, not enemies. There is no law and order in the state because police are behaving in a partisan manner,” alleged state Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury over the recent incidents of violence.
On political killings and other issues, the BJP planned to ‘ghearo’ the West Bengal secretariat Nabanna on Thursday.
BJP leaders claimed that they would march towards the secretariat in Howrah with two lakh supporters.
“In the land of Swami Vivekananda, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and SP Mookerjee, the Mamata Banerjee government has unleashed corruption and terror. Democracy is being murdered every day in Bengal. Those raising their voice against terror, corruption and unemployment are killed. Till now, more than 110 political workers have been killed in Bengal,” said BJP’s youngest national secretary Tejasvi Surya in a video tweet on Wednesday.
The young leader will join the protest march. “The TMC should keep in mind that spiralling of political violence in the recent past had led to erosion of support base of the ruling party,” said Kolkata-based political commentator Nirmalya Banerjee.
He pointed out that the political rise of BJP in West Bengal could be attributed to a great extent to the unprecedented violence witnessed in 2018 panchayat elections, prompting many Left as well as Congress supporters to take shelter under BJP’s umbrella to jointly counter the hitherto-unchallenged muscle power of the TMC.
Many TMC leaders admit now that the violence during panchayat polls had its impact on the 2019 Lok Sabha elections that saw the emergence of the BJP as a formidable political force in the state.
Even Mamata Banerjee swept to power in 2011 capitalising on public anger against alleged reign of terror unleashed by the then Left Front government.
It’s for Banerjee now to ensure that the very factor which had catapulted her to power does not lead to her downfall.