Author: Kanchan Gupta
Date: January 2, 2017
Mamata Banerjee dismissed the incident at Dhulagarh, said journalists should be “ashamed” of reporting it
Criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his decision to demonetize high value currency, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee accused him of “taking India back by 20 years”. The jury is still out on demonetization, but there’s little doubt about the rather alarming state of affairs in Mamata Banerjee’s own backyard.
Walking through the streets of central Kolkata last week, gazing at the decay and decline of Chowringhee and beyond, encountering women, old and young, dressed in head-to-toe burqas every few feet, listening to a strange patois of Bengali, Hindi and Urdu, I wished the city would go back in time by 30 years. I will come to why 30 years, that’s 25 years before the advent of the Trinamool Congress raj, in a moment. West Bengal’s Muslims were never invisible, definitely not so in Kolkata. Some of the finest writers, poets, journalists, artists, police officers and politicians, not to mention doctors and lawyers, were Muslims. The only discordant note would be struck on the days Mohammedan Sporting Club was scheduled to play a football match when the port area riff-raff would swarm central Kolkata. The docks were a no-go zone, avoided by all; Vinod Kumar Mehta, who was then Deputy Commissioner of Police, and his bodyguard Mokhtar Ali Khan were murdered by a mob at Garden Reach because he had dared enter a no-go zone.
Today all of Kolkata and its suburbs have increasingly begun to resemble that no-go zone – in perception, if not in reality. Vast stretches of West Bengal adjoining Bangladesh have witnessed exodus by Hindus as the population of Muslims has swelled with unrestricted, politically patronised, illegal immigration across a poorly managed border.
Along with this rise in numbers has come creeping Islamism: The burqa, which is rapidly replacing the ubiquitous saree, is only one of its many manifestations. The other malevolent expression of this shift is crude, often violent, assertion of Wahabi fanaticism with the state and its agencies failing to react. So, we hear stories of Hindus not being allowed to burn their dead in a village; homestead and farm land being forcibly grabbed in another; idols being vandalised in a town; and, puja being disallowed in yet another place.
This backdrop of the rapidly changing demographic profile of West Bengal, and the impact of Wahabi Islamisation of the State’s Muslims, are necessary to place in the context of the recent communal violence at Dhulagarh, a small suburban town in Howrah district, a short distance from Nabanna, the secretariat that houses the Government of West Bengal. Hindus were set upon, their homes ransacked and looted, shops set on fire. The police, instead of taking on the marauding mobs of Muslims, callously asked the victims to flee for their lives.
We would never get to know of what happened because the media in West Bengal, for reasons best known to owners and editors, maintained an omerta-like silence, had Zee TV not broken ranks and reported the horrors of Dhulagarh. Once the silence was shattered by that report, others stepped in to report the riot. Meanwhile, an FIR was filed against the editor and reporter of Zee TV, accusing them of ‘communalising’ the incident. The FIR was clearly politically inspired and does not merit serious attention.
Mamata Banerjee says “nothing happened” at Dhulagarh, that journalists should be “ashamed” of reporting the story. All the while she berated the media for reporting the truth, officials stood by, obsequiously smiling and nodding their heads. In a sense, this is what the Government of West Bengal has been reduced to. It would be easy to suggest that Mamata Banerjee is in denial, that she can’t see the collapsing social peace and order. It’s not quite so.
At the fag end of Left Front rule, the CPI(M) discovered the power of pandering to minorityism, of using illegal immigrants as a vote bank, of engineering riots to feed the monster of what was then incipient Tablighi Islamism. And so it was that Taslima Nasreen was evicted from West Bengal to assuage the imagined grievance of those who had not even read the book they had taken offence to. But the Left was on its way out by then.
The Trinamool Congress swept to power in 2011 and has stayed put since then through the expedient means of consolidating the Muslim vote, now nearly 35 per cent, and keeping that vote intact by turning the proverbial Nelson’s eye to the intolerable excesses of those who have seized control over Bengal’s teeming Muslims by preaching and practising radical Islamism.
Since then we have been witness to the sorry sight of Jamaatis in Kolkata protesting the execution of 1971 war criminals in Dhaka. We have seen Birbhum, the land of the brave, turning into a swamp of Jihadism. We have watched Malda fall off the map of law and order while bomb-making factories have replaced the manufacturing industry, for which West Bengal was once known.
The alarm bells rang at Deganga, Kaliachak and several other places. Nobody woke up. Now it’s Dhulagarh’s turn. Nobody has woken up; nothing has happened. How I wish West Bengal would go back in time, by 30 years, that’s before the State went into deep slumber.
- The writer is a senior journalist and a blogger; @KanchanGupta