The Malda rioters’ link to Bangladeshi extremists is becoming more and more apparent by the day, after the 3 January violence in Kaliachak brought to light the nefarious racket of counterfeit currency and poppy smugglers, who have been functioning in the area under the alleged patronage of the local chieftains of West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC).
It’s no secret that India’s border with Bangladesh is porous, and voices are now being raised by the political class and independent investigators that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee does not appear keen to stop the border districts in Malda and Murshidabad from becoming the hotbed of anti-social and anti-national activities, with elements from across the border sneaking in to this part of the country. Both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party allege that Mamata Banerjee is compromising on national security for electoral dividends. They allege that the TMC government is not probing the Bangladesh angle, and the fact that six out of the 10 people arrested in the Kaliachak violence have been granted bail, demonstrates that the government is trying to hide something. The CM’s attempt to show the violence in Malda as a “small incident” between the locals and the Border Security Force has doubled the suspicion, they say.
“There is a strong Bangladesh link. The numbers that were printed on the leaflets—distributed in the area asking the Muslim community to assemble for a demonstration—have been tracked. About 15 to 16 phone call intercepts reveal that calls were made to Bangladesh. During the Sunday rampage, people from Bangladesh were also here and were part of the rampage,” said a source aware of the initial investigations.
Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury of Congress too pointed at the growing security threat from Bangladeshi elements. The border is porous and the Mamata Banerjee government is refraining from taking any initiative for the lure of political dividend, he alleged. “The CM is turning a blind eye to the border issue because Malda, Murshidabad and adjoining districts are considered Congress strongholds. The TMC has not so far been able to capitalise in that particular area (Kaliachak) and especially in the district of Malda. So, in order to weaken the Congress party’s hold, the TMC is indulging in all kinds of parochial politics, including communal politics. They are trying to garner support from fundamentalist forces, and in return they are giving them huge concessions by way of letting them bypass the law at will,” he told this correspondent over phone.
Even in the face of a barrage of criticism, the TMC is showing no signs of cracking down upon the rioters in Malda. Despite reports that Kaliachak was a long drawn plot spearheaded by a minority group called the Edara-e-Shariat, the administration is yet to take any action against it. The printer, who published nearly 2,000 pamphlets asking the locals to gather in protest against the communal ranting of Kamlesh Tiwari—who claims to be the working president of Hindu Mahasabha—has confessed on record to a television channel that he acted on the instructions of Edara-e-Shariat. But, the police is yet to record his statement and investigate the role of the organisation.
Chowdhury seconded the involvement of Edara-e-Shariat in the Kaliachak violence. He said the preparations for the rally went on for nearly a month. The police had full knowledge that some elements had been distributing virulent pamphlets and flaring up communal sentiments, but they chose to turn a blind eye to the developments. “The most sorry state of this affair is that even when this incident has gone viral in the media, the CM of West Bengal is trying to divert, distort, and deflect the incident,” the Congress leader said.
Experts point out that it is a major lapse on the part of the state government not to strengthen the security apparatus in Kaliachak, which is vulnerably located. “The location of Kaliachak is very much delicate, because it adjoins the Bangladesh district of Chapai Nawabganj on one side and on the other, it borders Jharkhand. The criminal activities of 3 January should not be seen as an isolated incident. In fact, over the years, criminals are indulging in regular crimes with great impunity, and there is a possibility that elements from across the border are also involved,” a Kolkata based source told this correspondent. Sources in the BSF negated Mamata Banerjee’s claim about the Kaliachak incident being a clash between them and the villagers. “The basis on which the state government is linking the episode with the BSF is that their vehicle was attacked. But that was absolutely unprovoked. The car was travelling from the Guwahati sector to Hazaribagh. A second in command officer, along with his wife, was travelling in the car. That car was completely vandalised. That officer and his wife were brutally beaten up by the crowd,” the source said. He added that the BSF shares a good rapport with the villagers, with their border management and other management programmes, and that the relations are “better than before”.
Even CPM MP Mohammed Salim said that “in every border area, the locals and the BSF have some relations, which sometimes get hit because of cattle smuggling and other activities, which are done allegedly under the knowledge of a section of the BSF. Sometimes, a section of the BSF harasses innocent villagers in the name of checking etc., and that angle is always there”. He alleged that the CM is trying to exploit that angle to cover up the real issue of illegal racketeering which is rampant in Malda district and has the blessings of her party’s local leaders.
“By using a dividing line between the BSF and the villagers, Mamata Banerjee is trying to get the sympathy of the latter. But this place is far away from the border, and therefore, there is neither day-to-day activity of the BSF nor any question of a skirmish,” the Raiganj MP and CPM’s Politburo member told The Sunday Guardian.
Mamata Banerjee’s decision to give a BSF twist to the Malda riot is a calculated move, experts believe. They say that while isolated incidents take place between the BSF and the locals in all border areas, the Bengal CM is dragging the BSF into the matter in order to divert attention from poppy smuggling and the fake currency racket. This will also help her gain the sympathy of villagers ahead of the Assembly elections.
Earlier also, the TMC’s position on alleged terrorist incidents has been questionable. Experts point at the Khagragarh (Burdwan blast) incident in 2014, in which a grenade explosion took place in a rented house. The ruling party tried to hush up that issue. The state government did not even ask the National Investigation Agency to probe the matter, Adhir Chowdhury alleged. “The state government is totally indifferent to the deteriorating law and order situation. By taking advantage of the TMC’s posturing, the fundamentalist forces and the terrorist forces are trying to turn the whole of Bengal into a safe haven of terrorist activities,” a political commentator added.
Chowdhury alleged that the West Bengal CM is desperate to retain power and that “she can go any length for that”. “She is turning a blind eye to the racket of all sorts of anti-national and fundamentalist activities operating from the state. We are afraid West Bengal is slowly relegating to a state of anarchy. The reality is that the whole of Bengal is sitting on a powder keg. The entire border is porous, there is virtually no rule of law in the border areas. It is a safe corridor for all anti-national forces,” he said. One ISI agent was arrested only in November 2015 and he happened to be the local leader of the Trinamool Congress in Kolkata, Chowdhury pointed out.
TMC spokesperson Derek O’Brien remained unavailable for comment despite repeated phone calls made to his cell phone.
The CPM further alleged that the Mamata Banerjee government is randomly arresting their activists in the name of acting against the perpetrators of the Kaliachak violence. “While the real culprits who stormed the Kaliachak police station are roaming free, our activists in the area are being implicated in false cases, so that the CM can show that enough arrests are being made after the 3 January incident,” alleged Salim.
He reiterated what is already common speculation, saying that the mob in Kaliachak is under the “direct patronage” of local TMC leaders. Their purpose was to destroy criminal records against them in the police station, and that flaring up a communal tension was part of their strategy to divert attention from the illegal activities that are being done with the connivance of TMC leaders.
“The people who were involved in the burning of records at the maalkhana (storeroom) and storming the police station are under the direct patronage of local TMC leaders. That’s why the police did not do anything. It’s a connivance between the communal forces and the TMC leaders, with an eye on elections, to divide the people of West Bengal on the basis of religion,” Salim told this correspondent over phone. The state goes to the polls around April-May this year.
He talked about the alleged “goon culture” of the TMC, claiming that “poppy cultivators and smugglers of fake currency have become more powerful under the TMC. They now have the right to intervene in administrative matters also. That’s a reward they have got for being loyal to the TMC.” The BJP, whose fact-finding team was denied entry to Kaliachak on Monday, too alleged connivance between the rioters and West Bengal’s ruling party and government. “It was such a huge incident where the symbol of law and order, the police station was burned to ashes by a mob. But not a single bullet was fired by the police. The mob had deliberately come to burn the record room, because all the investigation, all the criminal records of those who are indulging in printing counterfeit currency, cultivating opium in that area, and those who are involved in human trafficking, were kept there,” BJP MP S.S. Ahluwalia, who was barred from entering Malda by the district administration, told this correspondent. “One lakh people assembled there in broad daylight and stormed a police station. It is a total failure of the government, which is clearly acting to shield the wrongdoers,” he added. The BJP has submitted a memorandum to the Ministry of Home Affairs in this regard.
Chowdhury said that if one looks at the records of only a couple of months in Kaliachak, a number of murders have happened but the police has not been found to be active of apprehending any of the culprits. In the full view of the police in National Highway 34, the rival groups of the ruling party are indulging in exchange of fire regularly, as a result of which the NH 34 got immobilised on occasions. “But no action was taken by the administration,” the Lok Sabha MP from Berhampore told this newspaper.
Earlier on 3 January, a massive rally led by members of the Muslim community, to protest the alleged communal utterances by Kamlesh Tiwari, turned violent, leading to an attack on the Kaliachak police station in Malda. Experts have since maintained that the protests were a camouflage for the planned attack on the police station to destroy criminal records.
With inputs from Tapas Saha in Kolkata