Birbhum killings: When law of rule becomes law of ruler
The Birbhum massacre is the latest in the long list of killings in West Bengal, but it is not going to fade away or be forgotten any time soon
Pandemonium broke out in the West Bengal Assembly on 28 March 2022, as BJP legislators were manhandled by TMC goons and policemen in plain clothes over the Birbhum killings. BJP legislators Dipak Burman, Shankar Ghosh, Manoj Tigga, Narahari Mahato and Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari were suspended by the Speaker for the entire session, in a blatant violation of democratic ethos. All that the BJP legislators wanted was a discussion on the collapse of law and order machinery in Bengal. Instead of conducting and promoting a civil discussion, BJP legislators, including chief whip Manoj Tigga, were beaten up by some TMC MLAs and what is worse, the Speaker, instead of reining in the TMC vandals, summarily suspended five BJP legislators.
The Birbhum massacre took place on 21 March 2022, but West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee met the families of the victims at Bogtui village in Birbhum district, only more than 72 hours later, on 24 March 2022, showcasing her criminal apathy and complete collapse of law and order machinery in the state. Mamata is also the Home Minister of West Bengal, which makes her doubly culpable.
The Calcutta High Court on 25 March 2022 ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to probe the Birbhum violence case in which over eight people were set on fire, following the killing of a local Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Bhadu Sheikh. Bhadu Sheikh was infamous for his illegal sand mining business and was feared by the locals in Birbhum, as he epitomised TMC's culture of goondaism and mobocracy. That certainly, of course, does not justify his murder. Equally, let it not be lost on anyone that the Mamata regime has started normalising violence and vandalism with local TMC goons abetting a culture of intimidation.
Whether Bhadu Sheikh was killed due to a rivalry between two opposite gangs is not the point of discussion here. The moot point is, after his murder, why was retributive violence unleashed upon hapless people who were set on fire in full public glare? Where was the state police? Why did it turn a blind eye to the pleas for help by families of the victims? After the fire, one victim died in the hospital but why was a statement not recorded under Section 161 and 164 of the CrPC? Why were there no CCTVs at the crime site which was barely a few metres away from the local police station? Why was forensic evidence not duly collected from the crime scene? Why was videography of postmortems not done?
The court has ordered the CBI to submit a progress report on 7 April 2022. The very fact that the Calcutta HC has initiated a suo motu case in the Birbhum violence, shows how the court has little faith in the Mamata regime and rightfully so. Mamata Banerjee's track record has only gone from bad to worse and in light of the deteriorating law and order situation in West Bengal, the court took the right step in initiating a suo moto case and thereafter handing over the probe to the CBI, rather than leaving it to a SIT-monitored by the Bengal police, which have in any case become a puppet at the hands of the Mamata Banerjee dispensation.
The TMC's shameful silence, connivance with the perpetrators, and refusal to file complaints in cognizable offences in the post-poll violence that was unleashed in May 2021, in which numerous ordinary citizens, including BJP and RSS workers and supporters, were hacked to death, were condemned last year by a five-judge bench led by Rajesh Bindal of the Calcutta High Court. It is said almost 80,000 Hindus had to flee Bengal fearing for their safety, after the TMC came back to power in May 2021 and within hours unleashed a horrific saga of violence against those who had not voted for the party in the 2022 Assembly elections. Mamata's “Khela Hobe” is symbolic of state brutality and retribution, akin to the Middle Ages and that is precisely why she is unfit to be a national leader, her national aspirations notwithstanding.
One of the petitions before the Calcutta HC, before the court handed over the probe to the CBI, stated that the SIT spearheaded by a police officer (Gyaanwant Singh) of the Mamata Banerjee government to conduct the probe cannot be relied upon and will only act as a “slave of the ruling TMC party”. What this shows is that the general public has no confidence in the TMC regime. It is no secret that while Hindu votes got divided, Muslims voted en masse for Mamata's party and that is the only reason she came back to power in 2021, despite 10 years of misgovernance and criminal apathy to her discredit.
Various reports say that the Birbhum massacre took place with full encouragement from the state police which directly reports into Mamata Banerjee. It is said that eyewitnesses of the terrifying massacre were threatened and all the village residents, especially men, were forced to leave.
Mamata Banerjee suffers from Hindu phobia. Questioning the West Bengal government’s curbs on Durga idol immersion, the Calcutta HC on 20 September 2017 said: “The state cannot hinder a citizen’s right to practice religion on the basis of a mere assumption of law and order disruption and must provide sound reasons for doing so. Let them (Hindus and Muslims) live in harmony, do not create a line between them. People have the right to practice their religious activities, whichever community they may be of, and the state cannot put restrictions, unless it has a concrete ground to believe that two communities cannot live together,” the acting Chief Justice had said then.
From providing allowances to clerics, giving free run to anti-Hindu rioters, to denying 300 Hindu families in Nalhati village in Birbhum district the right to celebrate Durga Puja, to denying permission to RSS-BJP leaders to have meetings in Bengal under flimsy pretexts, Mamata Banerjee has left no stone unturned to woo the Muslim community and engage in rabid Muslim appeasement, only for the sake of vote-bank politics.
In April 2012, she announced an allowance of Rs 2,500 for the imams and Rs 1,500 to muezzins, at a cost of Rs 126 crore annually to the state exchequer. Today, more than 97 per cent of West Bengal's Muslim population has been recognised as Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and what is more, there has been a five-fold jump in budgetary allocation for minority affairs.
But what is more dangerous is the rise in communal incidents. While the state recorded 27 incidents of violence in 2015 in which five persons died and 84 suffered injuries, the number of incidents almost doubled in 2017 when 58 incidents of violence were recorded, in which nine people lost their lives and 230 were injured. In 2016, there were 32 incidents of communal strife in the state.
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BR Ambedkar, in his book, Pakistan or the Partition of India, wrote, “Appeasement sets no limits to the demands and aspirations of the aggressor. Appeasement means buying off the aggressor by conniving at his acts of murder, rape, arson and loot against innocent persons who happen for the moment to be the victims of his displeasure.”
It is not that Mamata Banerjee is not aware of what is happening on the ground, but, most surprisingly and rather appalling, instead of correcting her own policies, she seems to be relying on administrative might, political hubris and in the dictum, “Might is right”.
Following the violence, the NHRC visited the state to assess the extent of human rights violations. A part of NHRC, the National Commission for ST (NCST) also visited the state in July and submitted its report on the findings.
As per reports, the NCST found evidence of rampant violence and targeted attack on Hindu homes by TMC cadres. The commission found that tribal communities were living under perpetual fear of persecution after the post-poll elections. They were unable to lodge complaints with the police or revenue officials because of fear of retribution. Santhal tribes in Hooghly East Bardhaman and Jhargram were repeatedly brutalised by the draconian Mamata Banerjee regime. In the Midnapur district, the NCST found that tribal families belonging to Munda tribe were subjected to attack by violent mobs, were forced to confine themselves to their homes and were even restricted from visiting markets or selling their agricultural produce. There were acts of physical assault and caste discrimination as well. Many tribals stated that vehicles operated by them were not allowed to ply on roads by the local police in the post-poll violence in May 2021, unleashed by TMC goons. The SC women faced boycotts from various sections of society, thereby exacerbating their financial woes.
Several districts in 24 North Parganas were among those affected by the violence that erupted in the wake of the Assembly election results in West Bengal last year. People from Mahato, Munda, Bedia, and Oraon communities were affected by violence in these districts. It is learnt that incidents such as looting valuables, ransacking of houses and shops, theft of gold chains, cycles, destruction of kitchen and damaging of asbestos sheets, raping and molesting women, shooting people at point blank range happened with rank impunity with the blessings of the TMC regime.
NHRC made damning disclosures on post-poll violence in West Bengal, to the Calcutta High Court on 14 July 2021. NHRC, a statutory public body, said in its report that, after visiting 311 spots in 20 days and carrying out an extensive inquiry in the matter, the seven-member committee constituted to probe the post-poll violence in West Bengal concluded that the situation of the state was a manifestation of ‘Law of Ruler’, instead of ‘Rule of Law’. Most complaints were from Cooch Behar, Birbhum, Bardhaman, North 24 Parganas and Kolkata, said the NHRC, adding that most of the complaints related to rape, arson, loot, molestation, and vandalism.
A five-judge bench headed by Acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal observed, “There are a lot of issues which have not been addressed by the State despite being raised in various petitions pending in this court. People are facing difficulties. Even the persons who have been reinstated are being threatened again, whereas some are still not able to come back. The effect of this inaction on the part of the State is also that these people are not able to earn their livelihood. The complaints filed by them to the police are not being acted upon and they are being threatened with cross cases.”
Furthermore, in a scathingly damning indictment of the incompetent and insensitive Mamata Banerjee regime, the Calcutta High Court said: “Instead of giving any specific replies, the State government in its affidavit has simply made a general statement that all the petitions were politically motivated.” The court reminded the Mamata Banerjee government that it was simply making flimsy excuses to cover up the gross negligence and criminal apathy of the TMC dispensation in the post-poll violence in Bengal in May 2021.
Be it Kaliachak riots in Malda district or the Dhulagarh riots in 2016, riots in Baduria in Basirhat district in 2017, Aasansol riots of 2018, Bhadreshwar riots of 2019, violence at Jadavpur in 2020 or the Sitakulchi killings in 2021, Mamata Banerjee has repeatedly, wilfully and deliberately turned a blind eye to the brutality with which political killings have happened. The Birbhum massacre is the latest in the long list of killings. The Birbhum massacre, however, is not going to fade away or be forgotten any time soon.
Long back Benito Mussolini said, Fascism is a religion. Indeed, if that is true, then Mamata Banerjee, who has scant regard for constitutional propriety, is truly a modern day version of all that Nazi-style Fascism stands for.
The author is an economist, national spokesperson of the BJP and the bestselling author of ‘The Modi Gambit’. Views expressed are personal.
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