Kolkata: With protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act turning violent in parts of West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has issued multiple statements and released advertisements appealing for peace.
According to police, there have been 216 incidents of protest rallies since 13 December, some of which have led to arson, vandalising of public and private property, road and rail blockades. No arrests have been made and no one has been detained so far, sources in the police said.
In the face of the unabated violence, the Mamata Banerjee government has issued orders for internet suspension in five Muslim-dominated districts.
Banerjee and her Cabinet colleague, Firhad Hakim, often seen as the Trinamool’s Muslim face, have repeatedly been appealing to the protestors to maintain calm.
Taking it a step forward, Hakim, addressing the protesters, said that the violence would only strengthen the BJP and help it consolidate 70 per cent votes in its favour. Muslims constitute 30 per cent of the total electorate in the state.
The Opposition has, however, hit out at Banerjee for “failing to uphold Rajdharma” and has been claiming that the protests in the state suit her designs.
Protests and politics
Protests erupted in West Bengal after the Citizenship Amendment Bill was passed in Rajya Sabha on 11 December.
They began peacefully but have since turned violent with protesters blocking roads, burning tyres, ransacking public and private properties, setting train and buses on fire, burning down stations and toll plazas, primarily in districts that share borders with Bangladesh.
According to police, at least 12 districts — North 24 Paragana, South 24 Pargana, Kolkata, Howrah, Murshidabad, Malda, Birbhum, Hooghly, West Midnapore, Nadia, East and West Burdwan — are the worst-hit.
Five of 12 affected districts — Murshidabad, Malda, South and North 24 Paragana, Nadia — are located near the Indo-Bangladesh international border and have a Muslim population of close to 40 to 50 per cent.
With no arrests and detentions, the Opposition parties have begun accusing the Mamata Banerjee government of “inaction”.
As the situation began spiralling out of control, the chief minister made a number of public appeals and also released advertisements stating her government would not implement Citizenship Amendment Act in the state.
In a video message, Hakim, the state’s urban development minister, said, “Disruption of public order and incidents of violence, arson, road and rail blockade would increase the BJP’s strength.”
“Do not forget that these kinds of violence make the 70 per cent population (Hindus) shaky and nervous. This will lead to its consolidation in BJP’s favour and they will transform Bengal into Uttar Pradesh,” he added. “None of you (Muslims) will be able to walk on the streets with dignity then. That is why we appeal to you to exercise restraint.”
Hakim, who is also the mayor of Kolkata, urged the people to instead join the protest rallies being organised by the Trinamool Congress.
Banerjee is to lead a protest rally in Kolkata Monday while senior TMC leaders will take out rallies on 17 and 18 December in South Kolkata and Howrah respectively. Banerjee has called a high-level meeting with all MPs and MLAs on 20 December to decide on the future course of action.
Opposition calls protests ‘designed’
The opposition has been accusing the TMC government of instigating the protests. A veteran CPM leader said the ‘timing’ of the protests clearly indicate that they were ‘incited’ by the ruling party and not ‘spontaneous’ like in Assam.
“Muslims were holding protest rallies in a democratic and peaceful manner until the chief minister called for protests on the streets,” he said. “Soon after, all hell broke loose and thousands of people, backed by hooligans and mercenaries, went on a rampage. They were given a free hand to destroy government property. This is a political design to gain electoral ground.”
Congress MP Adhir Choudhury too said that the ruling party instigated the mob violence.
“Where is peaceful protest? Dozens of trains have been cancelled, roads have been blocked for hours every day since 13 December,” he said. “Trains and buses have been set on fire. No sane political party would support this violence. A huge damage has been done.”
BJP gets a shot in the arm
The BJP that temporarily went on the backfoot as it drew flak from a cross-section of society for bringing in a ‘discriminatory’ legislation, has now got a shot in the arm.
The party has been projecting the violent protests and apparent inaction by police as the instances of Mamata’s ‘appeasement politics’.
“The ruling party misled people and tried to block the citizenship to thousands of Hindu refugees. In the last three days, people of Bengal yet again witnessed that Mamata Banerjee’s government is only for a particular community, and not for the people,” BJP’s state president Dilip Ghosh said.
The state witnessed a huge ground swell in favour of the BJP as the party accused Mamata Banerjee of ‘appeasement politics’ and rode on this narrative to win 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state during the general elections.