In the past six months, the BJP in West Bengal has arranged for the bail of approximately 150 Hindus who were arrested in clashes with Muslims in various parts of the state, much to the frustration and astonishment of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Bengal has witnessed several clashes between Hindus and Muslims over the past few months, but almost every such clash has been hushed up by the state and/or under-reported by the media, for fear of leading to further flare-ups. But the atmosphere is still tense in several areas, where the police is on tenterhooks and fears clashes.
While every such minor clash is hushed up by the state, those involved in the incidents are arrested by the police. And the state BJP unit has used the opportunity to cobble Hindu support.
Admitting that BJP had indeed arranged for bail for about 150 Hindus in the past six months, BJP state president Dilip Ghosh told HuffPost India, "There is no one to back the Hindus in this state. Muslims get a lot of support and sympathy from several quarters."
It was not difficult to understand what he was hinting at. "How will the poor Hindus fend for themselves? They are being attacked and driven out of their homes by the Muslims in various parts of the state. They have no legal support and are too poor to fight this unfair system," he said.
"There is no one to back the Hindus in this state. Muslims get a lot of support and sympathy from several quarters."
Ghosh is well aware that the BJP's aim in Bengal — just as the formula has worked elsewhere in the country, most recently in Uttar Pradesh — is to consolidate the Hindu votes. And to this end, the BJP has not only offered legal aid and money, but also arranged for rice and vegetables for the families of Hindus who were arrested in these riots "at least for some time, till they were able to get back to work".
Among other places, there have been clashes in Dhulagarh in Howrah, Mayureshwar and Rampurhat in Birbhum, Asansol in Burdwan, Chinsurah and Chandannagar in Hooghly, Kharagpur in West Midnapore, Mograhat in South 24 Parganas, Metiabruz in Kolkata, Tehatta in Nadia and Naihati in North 24 Parganas.
In Dhulagarh, none of the 63 persons arrested in 15 different cases have been released on bail so far, said the Superintendent of Police of Howrah district, Sumit Kumar. Sources say that the government has been firm in Dhulagarh, learning from earlier experiences where the rioters got away easily. However, the BJP is backing the families in Dhulagarh by giving them financial support and food supplies, and also moving their bail applications and offering legal aid.
While she doesn't want the Muslims in Bengal to feel she is not with them, the BJP is using the perceived pro-Muslim position of Mamata Banerjee against her in order to woo the Hindus.
The same support has been offered by the BJP to the Hindus in Hajinagar and Halishahar of North 24 Parganas, Katwa in Burdwan, Tehatta in Nadia, Chandannagar in Hooghly and Mayureshwar in Birbhum. Hindus and Muslims were both arrested in the clashes.
These clashes are turning out to be a double-edged sword for Banerjee. She has long been accused of appeasing Muslims to consolidate their votes and now there is little she can do to break this viewpoint. While she doesn't want the Muslims in Bengal to feel she is not with them, the BJP is using the perceived pro-Muslim position of Banerjee against her in order to woo the Hindus.
This deep rift created by Trinamool Congress and the BJP, by playing the religion card in an effort to win political ground, is perhaps gradually turning out to be the most critical issue in Bengal politics. In the coming days, this may be the single-most factor on which a distinct polarisation of voting may take place in the state.
Sources say that Banerjee has recently told the top level of the state administration that there should not be any bias towards or against persons of any particular community when it came to handling law and order issues. But the word seems to have spread already that the administration has a soft corner for Muslims. And the BJP leaders are using this perception to their advantage.
The state administration is tight-lipped about the issue. Either the top officers are not aware of the BJP's efforts to post bail selectively for Hindus, or they do not want to talk about it. When asked if the state administration was aware of who had arranged for the bail of some of those arrested in various riots cases in Bengal, Additional Director General (Law and Order), Anuj Sharma, said he was not aware and would have to "check records".
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