Kolkata: Bombs, bullets and sticks, which have come to be a part of West Bengal’s political culture, are back in business as the state deals with the Covid-19 crisis amid a nationwide lockdown. The state is witnessing clashes over the burial of coronavirus victims, setting up of quarantine centres and even distribution of relief materials.
Over the last two weeks, at least a dozen incidents of violence related to the coronavirus scare have been reported across the state, leaving one dead and dozens injured.
Among these are incidents of a hurled bomb over setting up of a quarantine centre in a village, burial of a person in Howrah, inter-party clashes within the ruling Trinamool Congress, and violent agitations in Kolkata over cremation of bodies.
In districts like Burdwan, East Midnapore, Hooghly and Purulia, the police had to intervene to bring the situation under control, said local sources.
What’s happening in Bengal
On 4 April, a clash broke out between two groups at a village called Parui in Birbhum over setting up a quarantine centre. The villagers hurled bombs at each other, forcing the police to rush in. A villager was killed in the clash.
“Eight persons were arrested in the incident, we are further probing into it,” Shyam Singh, Superintendent of Police, Birbhum told ThePrint.
The same day, residents in Shibpur Botanic Garden area in Howrah district agitated after a body of a person who tested positive for Covid-19 was taken to the local burial ground.
“We had used a little force to bury the body there, locals were agitating and resisting the burial. We started a case for obstructing government officials from discharging their duty,” Kunal Agarwal, Police Commissioner of Howrah, told ThePrint.
This came days after Kolkata saw similar incidents at the Nimtala crematorium and Dhapa, the biggest dumping ground in the state.
While addressing the media at Nabanna Monday Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said her government would decide which hospital or crematorium would be designated for the purpose of treatment or cremation as she appealed to people to maintain calm. The CM also instructed the police to take stringent action against the miscreants.
A week after the lockdown was announced on 24 March, two TMC factions clashed in Kolkata’s Garden Reach area. The miscreants fired at each other and some people sustained bullet injuries.
According to sources in the police, the factions clashed over the distribution of ration related to the coronavirus crisis. Seven persons were arrested in the case and further probe is on, said a senior police official who didn’t wish to be named.
‘Need for trust in government’
Describing the nature of violence in the state and how the state gets so politically charged on every occasion, Partha Pratim Biswas, a political commentator and professor at Kolkata’s Jadavpur University said, “Such violence during a virus-induced lockdown is only a reflection on the governance.
“The people have no trust in administration. Had the police administration been a little unbiased and rational, the agitation would not have taken such violent shape. Bengal has traditionally remained politically-charged and people drag politics into everything. But the administration needs to be de-politicised,” he said.
“Clashes over distribution of ration or violent agitation over blocking a cremation show how the administration has become a political tool and how the people do not have fear for law,” he added.
BJP state president Dilip Ghosh blamed the Trinamool Congress for the violence in the state.
“The Trinamool Congress is riddled with their own factional feuds. Their people are running with the packets that came for distribution at ration shops. Some local leaders are distributing packets, which actually came for ration shops from the government and not from the party,” said Ghosh.
Responding to the allegations, a senior Trinamool minister, who didn’t want to be named, said, “The BJP is trying to politicise everything. The incidents are clearly local issues and Trinamool Congress has nothing to do with it. The respective police administration took immediate action.”