New Delhi: West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress has come out all guns blazing against the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh over the alleged gang rape and murder of a Dalit woman in Hathras.
While the party has justified its protests as a show of solidarity with the woman’s family, the opposition is viewing its stance in the context of next year’s West Bengal assembly elections, where the Trinamool faces a seemingly strengthening BJP presence.
A Trinamool Congress delegation led by its parliamentary party leader in Rajya Sabha, Derek O’ Brien, got into a confrontation with Uttar Pradesh Police Friday when they were stopped from entering the victim’s village, Boolgarhi in Hathras district.
In the ensuing melee, O’Brien was allegedly pushed to the ground as he tried to help Trinamool MP Pratima Mandal in her attempt to enter the village against police efforts to hold them back. Later, O’Brien, Mandal and Lok Sabha MP Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar held a sit-in protest about a kilometre away from the victim’s home.
On Saturday, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee will lead a rally in Kolkata to protest against the Hathras incident. She has already called the incident “shameful and barbaric”, and, addressing a public programme in North Bengal Thursday, she accused the BJP and the Yogi government of being “anti-Dalit”.
Have no words to condemn the barbaric & shameful incident at Hathras involving a young Dalit girl. My deepest condolences to the family.
More shameful is the forceful cremation without the family’s presence or consent, exposing those who use slogans & lofty promises for votes.
— Mamata Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) October 1, 2020
The site of the public programme, Jalpaiguri, is significant since it has a sizeable Dalit population. Of the seven assembly segments under the Jalpaiguri Lok Sabha seat, six are reserved SC seats and one is reserved for the ST.
In the 2019 elections, the Trinamool Congress lost the SC/ST seats in North Bengal, including Jalpaiguri (reserved for SC) and Alipurduar (reserved for ST).
The Trinamool’s campaigns in the context of the Hathras case, which involved a Dalit victim and upper caste suspects, come as the BJP has already made safety of women one of its main issues in the state. The latter has also engaged its women’s wing to create awareness about women’s safety issues.
Its planned march to Boolgarhi came a day after former Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the party general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh, attempted to lead a convoy to Hathras to meet the victim’s family. They were briefly detained by police.
The Congress, which has seen its presence as the primary opposition dwindle in the state, has called the Trinamool’s protest in Hathras “politically motivated”.
“The Mamata Banerjee government is hardly proactive when it comes to addressing the spurt in cases of crime against women. They try to hush up such cases by offering money and jobs to the victim and her family,” said West Bengal Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.
“But they have now come to Hathras to protest. This is only and only with an eye on Bengal elections.”
Some analysts also see a political angle to the Trinamool’s stance. West Bengal-based political analyst Biswanatath Chakraborti said Banerjee “is trying to get her Dalit votebank back”.
“She lost over 50 per cent of Dalit votes to the BJP in 2019. Bengal has at least 68 ST- and SC-dominated assembly seats. The BJP got a lead in 34 of them in 2019,” he added.
In a video posted on Twitter Friday, BJP MP from Bengal Babul Supriyo said the politicising of the incident was “nauseating”, adding that the Trinamool Congress’ protest in the matter wasn’t required.
(1/3) No matter what i write today, people are bringing in Hathras incident into it & lambasting me asking me why am i not writing ‘more’ on #Hathras. I have said what i needed to say yesterday itself but with all that we have seen today, Listen in if you wish to 👇 pic.twitter.com/Od0OeLKtyy
— Babul Supriyo (@SuPriyoBabul) October 2, 2020
On their part, however, Trinamool leaders say the party will be there “wherever there are atrocities against Dalits, adivasis, minorities, and the economically challenged… to reach out, show solidarity, to give strength”.
“All we wished today from the shameless UP administration was to allow two of our women MPs to meet and console the grieving family in Hathras. The two MPs were willing to walk the one km to the family home. That also was disallowed,” O’Brien told ThePrint.
Trinamool Lok Sabha MP Saugata Roy said the Hathras protest by the party should not be linked to Bengal elections. “As a political party, it’s our right to protest where it is due, irrespective of our strength in the region. In 2016, we had protested in Una (Gujarat) also after a group of Dalits were flogged,” Roy added.