Kolkata: On 10 October, two days after the gruesome murder of an ‘RSS sympathiser’, Bandhu Prakash Pal, his pregnant wife and seven-year-old son at Jiaganj in West Bengal’s Murshidabad district, the BJP took to the streets in Kolkata and in the district, some 300 km from the city, alleging that it was the result of a ‘jihadi’ conspiracy.
The same week, the BJP upped the ante against the Mamata Banerjee government after a Hindu priest, Supriya Banerjee, was found dead in Nadia, 130 km from the capital. The BJP claimed that Banerjee was a party worker who was killed for his political links.
The ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) is not behind when it comes to staking claim to the dead. When two persons — a 25-year-old man from Dhupguri and a 50-year-old from Jalpaiguri — committed suicide in north Bengal last month, it claimed the two were “supporters” of the party and their deaths the result of fears over possible implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in West Bengal.
Trinamool has begun using the fears over the NRC, which is being implemented in Assam, to counter the BJP’s surge in the state.
In all these cases, the police have claimed that the deaths have nothing to with politics or the NRC.
However, the intense tussle between BJP and Trinamool has led to blatant politicisation of deaths, whether suicide or murder — of people with any connection, however remote, to either.
The strategy adopted by the BJP in Bengal isn’t anything new. It appears to be following a blueprint that the TMC should be all too familiar with.
As opposition to the Left Front government in the state, the TMC, in the run-up to the 2011 assembly elections, had incessantly politicised the death of its ‘workers’ — parading bodies, putting up blockades and bringing life to a standstill in Kolkata.
All of it eventually proved successful as the TMC wrested power in the 2011 elections, ending Bengal’s uninterrupted 34-year Left rule.
Before Trinamool came to power
Politics over the dead used to thrive in the state between 2009 and 2011, when the Left front government was on the decline and Banerjee was a rising star.
Political clashes and deaths were seen as an opportunity by the TMC, which began the trend of parading the dead on Kolkata’s streets. Bodies would be brought all the way from the districts and the TMC would thrive in the sympathy it created. Trinamool workers would also repeatedly clash with police or the Left Front cadre as all attempts would be made to stop such rallies.
A TMC leader said the bodies were brought to the city as a form of ‘protest’. “People had to know what the CPM did to our workers,” he said. “Seeing is believing. Or else, people forget and the political point is not made.”
But that was then. Now, with the TMC in power and the BJP’s political star on the rise, the ruling party finds itself at the receiving end.
The BJP has been taking out rallies, holding sit-in demonstrations, clashing with police and flexing its organisational muscle. But there is a difference — the party hasn’t been able to parade the bodies of its killed ‘workers’.
In June, senior BJP leaders including state president Dilip Ghosh and MP Locket Chatterjee tried to enter Kolkata with the bodies of three ‘BJP men’ allegedly killed in a clash with Trinamool Congress in North 24 Paraganas.
The BJP, however, was stopped by police before it could enter the city. In September, the BJP again tried to hold a march with the body of another ‘party worker’ who was shot dead in Birbhum. Police once again intervened and the body was sent to his home district.
Our workers’ deaths being downplayed: BJP
BJP’s state general secretary Sayantan Bose alleges that the death of any party worker is downplayed as a “criminal case”.
“This has been a standard political approach for the Trinamool Congress,” Bose said. “If their workers are killed, then they allege that the BJP murdered them. But when our workers are murdered, they are downplayed as criminal cases.”
TMC secretary general Partha Chatterjee, however, denied the charges. “The BJP leaders lost their face in Jiaganj case,” he said. “That is why they went to Delhi and met the President of India. They are trying to satisfy their vested political interest by politicising criminal cases.”