The recent communal clashes in West Bengal and Bihar on the occasion of Ram Navami have further vitiated the atmosphere for peace and social harmony in the two States. Several days after the incidents of violence and rioting, resulting in the death of four persons in the Raniganj-Asansol belt in West Bengal’s Paschim Bardhaman district, the situation continues to be tense. Antagonists from the two communities and the rival political parties have further poured oil on the burning embers by their provocative statements.
In West Bengal, the ruling Trinamool Congress government and its leaders on one side and the BJP and its State functionaries on the other have been indulging in a blame game, which, in turn, further aggravates the already tense situation. The State Government claims that the Ram Navami procession was taken out in defiance of the prohibitory orders and an explicit denial of permission to the organisers. Also, that some in the procession carried arms and that provocative slogans were raised against the minority community. The organisers of the Ram Navami procession, however, deny the charge, claiming that there were no incidents of violence as it wended its way during through the town. Violence and rioting, it is said, took place hours after the procession. Only an inquiry, which has been ordered by the State Government, is likely to reveal the truth, though the State BJP remains skeptical for obvious reasons.
The Mamata Banerjee Government declined central assistance, while rushing additional battalions of police and paramilitary force to the affected areas. The increasing communal polarisation in the State, which has nearly one-third Muslim population, is a cause of concern in the border State. With the RSS-BJP fast increasing its presence in the State, even at the cost of the Left Front and the Congress, the State Government has often handled the situation most insensitively. Pro forma denial of permission to various religious processions of the majority community triggers a counter reaction, often leading to a tense situation. Instead of being seen to be even-handed in such matters, the public impression that the State Government tilts in favour of the minority community only fuels resentment and grievance of the majority community. Intrusion of narrow political factors in district-level law and order decisions feeds into the popular narrative that the Government appeases the minority community. However, the remarks of the Union Minister Babul Supriyo, who represents the Asansol Lok Sabha constituency, only aggravated the situation further. He might be trying to console his constituents who were at the receiving end of the violence at the hands of the members of the minority community, but his remarks were most unfortunate.
Meanwhile, in the neighbouring Bihar, violence triggered by a religious procession in Bhagalpur soon spread to more districts of the State. The son of a Union Minister belonging to the BJP was said to be raising provocative slogans against the minority community during a religious procession. The Bihar Government has made a number of arrests in this connection and arrest warrants have been issued against a few others, including the son of the BJP minister. Clearly, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who heads a JD(U)-BJP alliance, is deeply embarrassed. Bihar has a long history of Hindu-Muslim clashes, but Nitish Kumar at the head of the JD(U)-BJP coalition has largely succeeded in maintaining communal peace barring on a couple of occasions.
But it is West Bengal which should be a cause of concern even as Mamata Banerjee tries to carve for herself a bigger role at the national level. In the coming months up until the 2019 Lok Sabha poll, the Opposition BJP and the ruling TMC are bound to raise the ante in order to embarrass each other and try and expand and consolidate their respective constituencies. This poses a challenge to the local administration and the police, which unfortunately, have been badly politicised by the present and the previous State governments. This should cease if peace is to be given a chance in a State with nearly a third of its population belonging to the minority community.