On Thursday, a day after Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee took oath as the chief minister for the third time, she expressed her surprise and anguish at how the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Centre sent a team to inquire into the incidents of political violence in the state in less than 24 hours from she taking charge of the state.
“Within an hour of taking the oath, I get a letter from the Centre. And their team arrived the next day, in less than 24 hours. I have never seen this. Where were the central teams when there was a shortage of oxygen? Where were they when a massive incident happened at Hathras (in Uttar Pradesh)? The reality is that they have failed to digest the defeat here,” she said.
She was referring to the four-member team that the home ministry sent to take stock of the state's situation in the aftermath of post-poll violence.
Mamata Banerjee acknowledged the death of 16 persons and announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh each to the next of kin of the deceased, irrespective of their political affiliation. However, going by the allegations made by different parties, at least 20 persons died, with the families of 9 claiming the victim to be a BJP supporter and the families of 8 claiming the deceased to be a TMC supporter. The deceased included a CPI(M) member, an Indian Secular Front supporter, and a non-affiliated person as well.
This visit of the central team came following an intense campaign carried out on social media by the central leadership of the BJP and organisations associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP’s parent organisation. They made hashtags like #BengalBurning and #ArrestMamata trend on Twitter. Most of them also gave a communal angle to the political clashes, alleging that Hindus were under attack. In the end, several senior leaders of the party were called out for spreading misinformation.
Journalists and political observers, however, see a bigger calculated strategy behind BJP's focus on highlighting the political clashes in Bengal.
On Friday, senior journalist Jayanta Ghosal, who has covered Bengal politics and national politics as well, wrote in a Facebook post that the reason behind BJP’s pro-active role in highlighting violence in Bengal was the party’s 2024 Lok Sabha election plan. According to Ghosal, the BJP was trying to preempt the possibility of a Mamata Banerjee-led coalition of opposition taking on them in 2024 and that is why the party was trying to ensure she loses credibility among other opposition leaders.
“The debacle that Modi’s leadership and authority have faced in the (Bengal) election results has made the 2024 elections all the more important to him,” Ghosal wrote.
He wrote that another reason behind BJP’s aggressive propaganda, which included Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s phone call to governor Jagdeep Dhankhar who kept highlighting how the law and order situation was breaking down, was to prevent the demoralisation of the workers in the state.
Another senior journalist Suman Bhattacharya described the BJP’s role as ‘diversionary tactics.’ “They are trying to divert the country’s attention from the humiliating defeat in Bengal, the defeat in Karnataka urban local body elections, the Centre’s Covid-19 mismanagement, and hints of an opposition coordination taking shape with Mamata Banerjee as one of its key components,” Bhattacharya told Outlook.
Bhattacharya said the BJP’s campaign “was visibly exaggerated” and that the violence was perpetrated by both the TMC and the BJP in each’s stronghold. He cited the example of how ahead of the election, the BJP’s national leadership, including Modi, created a huge campaign over the death of an elderly woman, Sobha Majumdar, in the Nimta area in North 24-Parganas district. The woman’s son, a BJP worker, said she was attacked by the TMC workers, a charge that the TMC always denied. Even other family members of Majumdar had contested her son’s claims, saying that the octogenarian woman had fallen at home and got injured. But, making a reference to TMC's campaign that branded Mamata Banerjee as the daughter of Bengal, Modi asked if Majumdar was not a daughter of Bengal as well.
“Now, election results show the TMC has got more votes than the BJP in Majumdar’s locality. The people of Bengal are not accepting such misinformation and exaggeration. But the BJP seems to be far from taking a lesson,” Bhattacharya said.
Political analyst Udayan Bandyopadhyay, who teaches political science at Bangabasi College in Kolkata, agreed. He said that the BJP was looking to divert the nation’s attention from the electoral results of the state assemblies, the municipal election in Karnataka, the panchayat election in Uttar Pradesh, and the Covid-19 mismanagement at the national level.
“The BJP is fearing for its future at the national level and is trying to divert public attention from issues troubling them,” Bandyopadhyay said. He added, “Besides, the BJP is failing to digest that the people of Bengal rejected their Hindu polarisation plan. Therefore, they are giving a communal twist to their campaign to tell the Hindus of the state that they made a blunder by not voting on communal lines.”
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