The stench of burnt metal hangs heavy at the Kaliachak police station in Malda district in West Bengal. Twisted motorbikes, charred furniture, mangled bicycles, soot covered broken signboards, gutted barracks and burnt uniform pieces stand testimony to the Sunday mayhem which has left Malda scarred for life.
At the epicentre of the rampage, the Kaliachak police station bears tell-tale signs of the mob carnage. Where the boundary wall stood till Sunday afternoon, now lies a heap of bricks. The torched barracks and residential quarters resemble a horror movie set. Strewn official documents scream out loud how hundreds and thousands of rallyists barged inside the police station and went on a vandalism spree.
The macabre fest, which lasted for well over an hour, targeted the criminal records section as well. Each and every case file was meticulously destroyed by the marauding mob, though, surprisingly, the arms store next door remained untouched. By then about 40 plus vehicles including buses, trucks and even a BSF vehicle had been set on fire.
And while rioting and arson took centre stage, the police force went missing. “We had no instruction to act against the mob which had assembled at Kaliachak under the banner of Edara-e-Sharia Kaliachak to protest comments made by a Hindu Mahasabha leader in Uttar Pradesh against the Prophet. What could we do under such circumstances? We ran for our lives,” confessed a police officer.
Edara-e-Sharia Kaliachak had circulated leaflets urging Muslims — who, incidentally, are the majority community in Malda — to take part in the protest rally along with friends and neighbours. Extensive “miking” was carried out and handbills distributed from local markets, shops and mosques informing people of the programme. Two mobile numbers were also printed at the bottom of the leaflet as contact persons. The numbers, however, have been out of reach ever since the Sunday rampage.
“I got phone calls to join the rally and they publicised widely for days together asking Muslims to join in. But personally I did not go as I felt this was a means of inflaming passions. The Hindu Mahasabha person who had made blasphemous comments against the Prophet in Uttar Pradesh had already been arrested. So there was no point in igniting passions all over again,” admits noted cleric Imam Asadullah of Chas Para Jam-e-Masjid.
But not everyone toed his school of thought. As the stream of rallyists turned into a virtual tsunami, reports of loot and arson started coming in from the Hindu dominated Baliadanga colony. Armed with revolvers, petrol cans, bombs, swords and rods, a frenzied mob started attacking all houses, stoning shops, targeting temples, torching cars and snapping communication lines as they went on a rampage.
“We have been living here for years, but have never felt so scared and vulnerable. They attacked us for no reason whatsoever. My daughters were sitting here on this bench when some of them stormed inside our house and started attacking the two wheeler parked inside. They were asking us to leave and run away from Malda or be prepared for the worst. My 13-year-old daughter started crying in fear and dared to protest against the vandalism. I rushed out, but by then they had attacked her with a brick on her face. She was bleeding profusely, though fortunately her eyes got saved. They had set ablaze the bike by then and were raining bricks on us. Only God knows how we managed to save ourselves that day. We ran to the terrace and kept crouching,” a petrified Archana Chaudhary tells us.
Baliadanga, incidentally, is at a stone’s throw from the Kaliachak police station. “If the administration cannot provide us security, who will? We were trembling in fear, but the policemen were busy saving themselves. Why didn’t they take preventive steps to disperse the mob? They just let it happen. One of our boys, Gopal Tiwari was shot in the leg while he was returning from a shop. Who will take responsibility for this?” Baliadanga residents ask in unison.
Malda’s Additional Superintendent of Police, Abhishek Modi offers “no comments” when asked about why the police didn’t act to disperse the mob when prior intimation was there of the religious rally and intelligence of a possible flare up.
“We have arrested 10 persons already and are interrogating them for specific leads. Raids are being conducted and we expect to round up more people soon. Intelligence gathering has been stepped up and we hope law and order situation will not deteriorate in future,” he says.
OPIUM TRADE, FICN RACKET, CROSS BORDER JIHADIS
While allegations of minority appeasement politics fly thick, with the Opposition — BJP, Congress and Left — accusing Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of nurturing Bengal’s minority vote bank at the cost of the interests of the majority community, a ground probe reveals that there is much more to the rampage than what meets the eye.
Malda, of late, has emerged as the hub of cross-border FICN (fake Indian currency note) racket. The National Investigation Agency (NIA), which is on the fake currency trail, has already prepared a dossier of key henchmen in the trade. Aligned to the local mafiosi, who control the illegal white poppy opium trade in this border district, the criminals are also intertwined with nefarious anti-national activities. From dabbling with manufacturing of arms to facilitating illegal migration, these hardened criminals were aware that their movements are being tracked and records maintained at the strong-room of Kaliachak police station.
“The protest rally was just one side of the story. It is amply clear that what happened in Malda was a part of a larger well planned conspiracy. The intention was to storm the police station, knowing very well that the government would have a soft approach, create panic in the area by triggering a fear psychosis, with the sole objective of destroying all evidence against those under watch. The hand of cross border jihadists elements cannot be ruled out. On one hand, terrorising Hindus would serve the purpose of giving the incident a communal twist to suit political interests in the run up to the Bengal elections, on the other hand, destroying records was a means of giving a free run to the criminals. Incidentally, it is through them that opium trade money is channelised for party funds as well,” quips a senior officer in the government.
While the probe is on to track down faces behind this conspiracy, the Ministry of Home Affairs has sought a detailed report from West Bengal government. Sources say that the role of Pakistan spy agency, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), hasn’t been ruled out either.
Mamata Banerjee’s West Bengal government, which wilfully chose to turn a blind eye to the Sunday mayhem, is now busy wiping off any tell-tale signs of the carnage. The charred Kaliachak police station is being given a fresh coat of blue and white paint, the burnt and mangled cars and trucks are being transported to Golapganj Investigation Centre about 12 km away to send out a message that all is well.
Mamata Banerjee maintains there is peace in Bengal and no communal tension. Hopefully, the fragile peace cannot be broken by vested anti-national elements.