West Bengal limps back to normalcy

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Social trouble: Fake and misleading posts on social media played a key role in further instigating the violence

After around a fortnight of communal violence, West Bengal is limping back to normalcy. While political parties are blaming each other for starting and fanning the clashes, the administration has started damage control. There are also reports that the members of the involved communities are working jointly to restore peace in the affected areas.
It all started on June 30 in Bhaduria when a teenager published a post on Facebook that was considered offensive by a community. The boy was arrested, but following the post, a mob reportedly came for the boy and attacked the 17-year-old’s uncle’s home, setting it on fire. Within a few hours, the violence spread from Bhaduria block of West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district to Basirhat, which lies 100kms from the capital of Kolkata.

Fake and misleading posts on social media played a key role in further instigating the violence. On June 12, the Criminal Investigating Department arrested BJP IT cell in-charge Tarun Sengupta from Asansol for allegedly posting fake image and videos on Facebook with an intention to create communal tension. Earlier, Kolkata police had registered two cases against BJP leader Nupur Sharma for sharing an image of Gujarat riots and using the photograph to protest the recent Basirhat violence. Two more people Ahmed Hossain, resident of Kaligunj, and Bhabatosh Chatterjee of Rupnagar were also arrested on the same charges. While Chatterjee was arrested for posting a video of one Bhojpuri movie and relating it to Baduria’s situation in Bengal, Hossain had allegedly uploaded videos that could hurt religious sentiments.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee accused BJP of using Facebook to create communal tension. Police and other state agencies have since increased their vigilance on social media. “People are using social media platform to satisfy their hidden intention. We have all rights to take action against anyone who share ‘objectionable videos’ with intention to create hatred and tension among communities and religion. We are keeping strict vigil on social media and posts being shared by people. I think people must be responsible enough by not sharing false stories and images on social media. There is nothing political in it”, a police official said.

The BJP, on its part, has launched a nationwide campaign to “Save Bengal” from the ruling Trinamool Congress. The saffron party has asserted that the ruling TMC in West Bengal is levelling fake charges in order to hide its own complicity and “politics of appeasement”. BJP spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi has alleged that the TMC is busy appeasing Muslims and “repressing” the Hindu population in Bengal. On July 8, a BJP central team comprising party MPs Meenakshi Lekhi, Om Mathur and Satyapal Singh was stopped from visiting the riot-hit Basirhat and its members were detained.

A few reports suggested that India’s clamping on the eastern border to check the burgeoning cattle and gold smuggling with next door Bangladesh was the biggest trigger for the communal violence that rocked Basirhat in West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas. Reportedly, there is widespread tussle between the Hindus and Muslims to take charge of the illegal border trade. Unofficially, cow smuggling across the border has been pegged at Rs 4,000 crore. Half of the business is reportedly generated through the Basirhat border, and the rest from the Malda-Murshidabad. In April this year, the Supreme Court had said that paramilitary forces and the local administration in the districts bordering Bangladesh should be involved in preventing cattle smuggling. The apex court had also directed the Centre to finalise the rules in this regard.

Banerjee has asserted that the international border was for the Central government to look after, but the Centre instead was “opening the gates and letting outsiders enter the country to conspire and cause violence.” “You (Centre) have opened up the border and let them enter the state and now you are asking the state to submit a report. It’s because we are in the government that we have been able to keep the people calm despite such conspiracies against us,” she said at a programmed in New Delhi on July 10. “Both the central and state governments are elected by the people. Then why is the central government conspiring against the state government? Why are they spreading lies against a state? I want an answer to this.”

Earlier, villagers of Magurkhali in Baduria block had alleged that outsiders came into their village to look for the accused youth. The outsiders, who could not be identified by the locals, allegedly wreaked havoc by attacking the teenager’s uncle’s house and set it on fire, the villagers had said.

The Calcutta High Court has asked the Centre to convey its position on whether it was considering a National Investigation Agency (NIA) probe into the recent communal strife at Baduria in West Bengals North 24 Parganas district.

On a plea seeking an NIA investigation into the clashes, a division bench comprising acting Chief Justice Nishita Mhatre and Justice T Chakraborty asked the lawyer for the central government about his stand.

Appearing for the Centre, Additional Solicitor General Kaushik Chanda submitted that he will take instructions in this regard from the government. Chanda has been asked by the bench to convey the Centres position on the plea on July 21 when PILs with regard to the clashes will be heard again.

The bench has also directed the West Bengal government to submit an affidavit stating the steps it has taken to control and normalise the situation in riot-affected Baduria on July 21. The direction to the state government was made on another petition seeking a direction to the state to compensate victims in last weeks communal clashes.
The court also urged the state government to take strong action against those fanning Basirhat violence. It also expressed its unwillingness to interfere in handling the situation, given the fact that the state has already set up a judicial commission to probe the matter. However, the court has asked the state to keep it in the loop regarding the steps taken to restore normalcy.

In a separate development, the Union Home Ministry recently wrote to state governments and union territories, urging them to maintain strict vigil. It also directed the police to take strict action against those who attempt to weaken the secular fabric by exploiting religious emotions.

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