A welcome probe
It is a commendable move by the West Bengal government, who decided to set up a judicial panel to look into the "communal" clashes at Baduria and Basirhat in the North 24 Parganas district recently. It would assist to expose the real culprits – who are trying to ignite communal passion through 'fake' posts on various social networking sites. It was really disheartening that video clips of one incident in Comilla (Bangladesh) and a provocative clip from a Bhojpuri film were being shown as if these incidents had taken place in Bengal. Not only that, the evil merchants of communalism had even morphed the clippings of many newspapers by changing their headlines. We must not forget the old saying -'What Bengal thinks today, India will think tomorrow'. But, the communal fire burning in West Bengal will have weighty consequences for national politics. The prognosis is alarming: A Facebook post sets off a violent rampage by a section of Muslims.
The police are accused of partisanship in handling the violence, which has now taken a deeply communal colour. Almost all the political parties have started fishing for political gain in troubled waters. Conspiracy theories are rife. There is a great deal of deceitful casuistry. Some argue that this violence might have been mischievously "provoked", therefore, is somehow less condemnable. But violence justifies itself in the name of provocation. If you justify a Facebook post as provocation, then you have conceded the ground for all who engage in violence. But this small storm brewing in North 24 Parganas has larger political and Constitutional corollaries. This violence needs to be placed in the context of the politics of free speech and mob violence, which is nowadays more coded. Bengal, in particular, has a terrible record on free speech- whether in universities or lack of support for writers like Taslima Nasreen. Under both the Left and Trinamool, Bengal has been the hypothesis of progressive pretence when it comes to defending freedoms or condemning mobs. Perhaps, that is why this mob violence will have larger national ramifications. Even the role of media is in question! Barring few media houses, most of the local and national dailies prefer to make flaring headlines, instead of highlighting the stories of display of communal harmony. After all, journalists are not judges! Most newspapers escaped this story of Muslims in Basirhat area of North 24-Parganas on the Bangladesh border, where tensions erupted at the beginning of the week after a teen's objectionable post on social media- that they are pooling in money to help Hindu neighbours rebuild their gutted shops and businesses? Indeed the very fact that there is so much talk of "outsiders" fomenting conflict suggest these local systems of control may be shifting in ways we do not fully understand. Spreading communalism could provide a cover for reshaping these local power structures.
We must not forget that Bengal is potentially quite combustible. It is a state with communal undercurrents; party structures and systems are in unrest. And the state has no enthusiasm for standing up for liberal values, at least at this very juncture. The strategy of playing on religious affinities will push Bengal down the slippery slope of communalism. The last time this happened was between the late 1920s and 1940s, when the Hindu elite of Bengal were not keen to let democracy produce Muslim-dominated governments in an undivided Bengal. After Independence, successive governments in Bengal, including those ruled by the Congress and the Left's 34-year-old regime, avoided letting communal passions boil over. Perhaps the memory of the Great Calcutta Killings and the Noakhali riots of 1946 shaped their strategies. Nonetheless, the Mamata Banerjee government's recent decision to constitute a judicial probe for the recent communal violence has come up with a ray of hope for the common people – especially who do not belong to a particular political agenda. The panel must recommend stern actions against the culprits and build up a society – where people differ from being together only. The West Bengal government should also focus on good administration, building social and physical infrastructure as these are the essential elements of maintaining the social and political fabric of any state. Such a strategy would be politically counterproductive from a partisan point of view as well. Let Didi lead from the front to make sure that the fires of Baduria and Basirhat do not become the inferno of Bengal!