The crackdown by the Border Security Force (BSF) on the illegal, but lucrative, business of cow smuggling along the India-Bangladesh border in West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district, resulted in immense resentment among a section of the area’s minority community. This culminated in the communal flare-up in the state’s Basirhat sub-division earlier this month. A source close to the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress told The Sunday Guardian over phone, “Cow smuggling to Bangladesh, through the riverine border in Basirhat, Taki and other adjoining areas, has taken a hit as the BSF has become very strict and is maintaining a constant vigil. This has hurt the locals, who were earning crores from these illegal activities. Rendered jobless, they blamed the situation on the majority community.”

The source further claimed, “A section of the local minority population, who were into smuggling cows to Bangladesh believe that it is because of objection from the majority community and the Bharatiya Janata Party government at the Centre that their business has taken a hit. The Facebook post (by a boy from Baduria) was just a pretext to vent their anger against the majority community. The riot had nothing to do with the Facebook post.” The source said that this was building up for a while.

The Sunday Guardian had done a ground report last month from Basirhat (Bengal’s cow smuggling business is drying up, 11 June), saying that the people involved in the illegal trade had taken a major hit because of the BSF’s strict vigil.

A top BJP functionary from West Bengal, who did not wish to be identified, corroborated the fact that the crackdown on illegal cow smuggling was one of the “triggers” that led to the horrifying communal flare-up in Basirhat.

Speaking to this newspaper, the BJP leader alleged, “A huge cow syndicate used to operate in that area. It collected money from the smugglers who took cows across the border to Bangladesh. This is, after all, one of the most porous borders that India shares with Bangladesh. Young boys, with the blessings of TMC leaders, were conducting the business. But since their business has taken a hit, both the leaders and their boys who were getting paid for such work, are hurting. It was because of this that the communal flare-up in Basrihat was manufactured by the cow syndicate, which is now almost cashless.”

On the condition of anonymity, another BJP leader closely connected with Basirhat alleged, “The cow syndicate used to make crores and crores of rupees every month. Once that stopped, the two factions of the TMC that were operating in the area and looking after the cow syndicate, started fighting for whatever remained of the trade. But innocent people got affected in the squabble between the two factions. They (the TMC) gave the whole squabble the colour of riots because that benefits them in two ways—by hurting the Hindus, they keep their minority vote intact; plus, the local media does not raise questions on such acts.”

Off the record, the ruling TMC’s senior leaders also accepted that the crackdown on cow smuggling was the key reason behind the communal tension in the area, with members from the minority community going on a rampage against the majority. TMC leaders believe that the crackdown had curtailed the easy money that some musclemen from these areas were earning every month.

Sources from Basirhat also pointed out how several local leaders across party lines have an interest in cow smuggling from which they earn huge sums of money. They alleged that the local police, which is aware of such developments, has been asked to stay silent on the issue to help maintain law and order.

“This region was sitting on a volcano ready to erupt, and it erupted. What happened here was instigated, planned and designed. It was not spontaneous. Some big names from the area are involved in the communal flare-up. They were remote-controlling the riot,” a Basirhat resident told this newspaper over phone.

The situation in Basirhat sub-division is limping back to normal over a week after communal violence erupted in Baduria, allegedly over an objectionable Facebook post, and soon spread to other adjoining areas.