Kolkata: The upcoming bypolls in four West Bengal assembly constituencies, two of which are located within a 20-km radius of the India-Bangladesh international border, have thrown up a vast range of campaign issues — ranging from the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and cases of targeted killing of Hindus by terrorists in Kashmir, to the recent reports of communal violence in Bangladesh during Durga Puja celebrations.
While the BJP campaign is leaning heavily on Hindu sentiments and trying to churn up the same, the Trinamool has slammed such efforts by the national party.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is as yet silent on the reported targeting of Hindus in Bangladesh. The Bengal BJP unit, meanwhile, has made the issue its main poll plank for the by-elections and has been holding protest marches and street-agitation programmes across districts.
Four West Bengal constituencies — Shantipur in Nadia district, Dinhata in Coochbehar district, Khardah in North 24 Parganas and Gosaba in South 24 Praganas — will vote on 30 October.
Both Shantipur and Dinhata are located within a 10-to-20 km radius of the India-Bangladesh border, with Rangpur and Rajshahi districts of Bangladesh on the other side. These are the Bangladesh districts from where incidents of alleged communal violence have been reported following Durga Puja festivities. Parts of North and South 24 Parganas districts too share borders with Bangladesh, but Khardah is far from the international border point, while Gosaba has a riverine border with Bangladesh.
The BJP has fielded Joy Saha (Khardah), Palash Raha (Gosaba), Niranjan Biswas (Shantipur) and Ashok Mandal (Dinhata) as its candidates, while the Trinamool has named former MLA Udayan Guha (Dinhata), state agriculture minister Sovandeb Chatterjee (Khardah), Brajakishore Goswami (Shantipur) and Subrata Mondal (Gosaba) as its candidates.
Call for ‘Hindu uprising’ vs allegations of ‘communalisation’
The BJP has launched a door-to-door campaign in the four constituencies, citing cases of Hindus being targeted in Kashmir and Bangladesh, including reported incidents and instances of Hindus being killed and temples and houses being vandalised by alleged extremist forces, a senior Bengal BJP leader told ThePrint, and claimed that “Bengal will fall prey to similar violence if there is no Hindu uprising”.
“Post-Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, extremist elements are emboldened and they are rising in every sensitive area,” said Jagannath Sarkar, BJP’s MP from the Ranaghat Lok Sabha seat bordering Bangladesh.
“They are killing Hindus in Kashmir, in our neighbouring country Bangladesh. Do not think that they are silent in Bengal. We know how active they are here. The ruling Trinamool Congress is giving shelter to such elements for their vote-bank politics.”
Sarkar had won the Santipur assembly constituency by 16,000 votes during the West Bengal assembly elections held earlier this year but vacated the seat to retain his position as an MP.
“We have instructed our workers to reach every voter with these details of violence in Kashmir and Bangladesh by pro-Taliban extremist forces. Bengal will also not be spared if Bengali Hindus do not stand up to such elements. The ruling party here only favours its vote-bank (Muslims),” he added.
Trinamool Congress leaders have, meanwhile, slammed such protests and statements by BJP members as attempts to “communalise” the situation in Bengal.
“BJP is trying to communalise the situation in Bengal. They are trying to foment trouble by dividing people and that is their politics. They are trying to instigate communal tension, specifically in the border districts of Bengal,” Sougata Roy, Trinamool MP from Dum Dum in North 24 Parganas district, which also shares a border with Bangladesh, told ThePrint.
As part of an ongoing social media campaign, the BJP also used videos and pictures of alleged incidents of unrest in East Midnapore and Nadia districts during and after Durga Puja festivities in the state.
“Actions have been taken against such instigating posts. We are maintaining a strict vigil on social media and local groups,” a senior police officer of West Bengal Police told ThePrint.
1.1 Those who are concerned about the mob attack on #DurgaPuja in Bangladesh, are they aware that here, in West Bengal East Mednipur district's Egra Central Bus Stand's Durga Puja also encountered similiar violence as in Bangladesh? pic.twitter.com/wHgE7cLwXr
— Dilip Ghosh (@DilipGhoshBJP) October 16, 2021
Udayan Guha, Trinamool’s candidate in Dinhata and an ex-MLA said, “We know that they are trying to incite violence. But people are now aware that Hindus and Muslims of Bengal do not fall prey to such violent ideas now.
“We never encourage violence anywhere — Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh or in our Kashmir. We also condemn violence in BJP ruled states. BJP’s wish to create a Hindu-Muslim riot-like situation will never come true. We all believe in Mamata Banerjee, she is the binding force.”
BJP harps on Mamata’s silence on Bangladesh
The West Bengal CM’s silence on the reported violence in Bangladesh, however, has given the BJP another reason to harp on the Trinamool’s alleged pandering to the Muslim minority vote-bank in the state.
BJP’s national vice president and MP Dilip Ghosh too questioned Mamata Banerjee’s silence on the issue.
“Has a word of condemnation against such brutal violence against the Hindu Bengalis come from Mamata Banerjee or her colleagues? The targeted Hindus of Bangladesh are also Bengalis, they were part of us years back. Many of us have houses, relatives and friends there. Does this violence not hurt us?” he asked.
“Mamata Banerjee claims to be friends with Sheikh Hasina ji. She sends gifts and greetings to her. Has she called her once requesting security for Bengali Hindus? We have faith in Hasina ji, we know she will protect our brothers and sisters there. Five-six years back, during such violence, she arrested over 8,000 people. But our politicians need to convey these. Our PM has already made efforts. What is the Bengal chief minister doing? She will not say a word, because that may hurt her vote-bank,” claimed Ghosh.
Trinamool leaders explained the chief minister’s silence on the issue of reported violence against Hindu minorities in Bangladesh by saying that she had no role to play in the matter as it was “PM Modi’s responsibility” — as part of India’s diplomatic dialogue — to mount pressure on the Bangladeshi government to stop the violence.
“Mamata Banerjee has no role to play in this. She is a chief minister. This is the work of the Prime Minister. He should pressurise the Bangladeshi government to protect Hindus there,” said TMC MP Sougata Roy.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)