Violence and deaths have been the landmark of Bengal politics over last 5-6 decades, gaining momentum during the Communist rule of 34 years, commencing in 1977. Bengal was witness to mindless communist brutality meted out to all and sundry – be it their political adversaries or hapless hindu refugees from Bangladesh or a group of hindu sadhus.
21st July, 1993 was one such ‘normal’ day in office for the tyrannical communists when the police mindlessly opened fire on a group of Congress workers led by the Youth Congress leader of that time, Mamata Banerjee, killing 13 of them and injuring and maiming several others. Mamata Banerjee herself was injured during the incident. The group was marching towards Writer’s Building, to demand that the photo identity cards for the voters be made mandatory during elections to prevent rigging by the ruling party cadres. The Congress had alleged excessive rigging during the 1991 Assembly Elections in Bengal, which saw the Communists led by the incumbent Chief Minister, Jyoti Basu retaining power.
Since then, 21st July has been celebrated as ‘Shahid Diwas’ every year till date, by the Bengal Congress. After Mamata Banerjee parted ways with the Congress and formed the Trinamool Congress, the Shahid Diwas celebration became a bigger affair. With the Mamata Banerjee led TMC ascending to power in Bengal in 2011, the celebrations assumed the form of an annual carnival, with sumptuous lunch being served to all those who attend the Shahid rally, celebrities from the cultural field adorning the rally, wherein a few of them, along with politicians from other political parties have been seen to choose this day as the occasion of their joining the TMC.
Ironically, over the years, the actual ‘shahids’, the Congress workers who lost their lives in police firing, have taken a back seat and the gala celebration, interspersed with musical performances by the TMC – leaning artists and the food and festivities have become the primary attraction for the TMC workers for this day.
To add insult to injury, two of the four IPS officers, who were earmarked as the main perpetrators of the firing incident by a one man committee to probe the incident, appointed by the Mamata Banerjee led TMC government in 2011, have joined the TMC. The West Bengal Home Secretary at that time, IPS Manish Gupta had also joined the TMC and was the Power Minister in Mamata Banerjee’s cabinet during TMC-1.
After Mamata Banerjee swept to power in Bengal, the Left and the Congress appeared to be toothless tigers, hardly making their presence felt as a viable opposition in the state. They seemed to be lending covert support to the TMC in all their deeds, even though the TMC appeared to be even more brutal and barbaric than the Left, after assuming power in Bengal and gory killings of the opposition party workers have become a regular affair during their tumultuous reign. In the early years of their rule, the Congress and the Left workers faced thr brunt of their brutality.
However, with the BJP gaining in strength and popularity in Bengal, in a big way, with their above average performance in the 2017 Panchayat elections, despite mindless bloodshed and torture by the TMC, even preventing the opposition from filing nomination papers, saw them emerge as the main opposition in the state. In no time, TMC’s blazing guns started targeting to BJP karyakartas, whose killings became a norm since 2017, as the TMC saw a formidable opposition in them, who were ideologically polar opposites and hence were the opposition in true sense of the term, this despite the fact that the TMC were once their allies during the early 2000s, when the BJP -led NDA govt was in power at the Centre.
Nearly 150 BJP karyakartas were killed, starting from 2017 upto the time of the Assembly elections in 2021 – karyakartas’ lifeless bodies hanging from trees or lamp posts, or their bullet-ridden and blood-soaked bodies have become a regular feature of the Bengal political scenario. Claiming to be harbingers of democracy and free speech, this happened to be the TMC – style of terrorizing and stifling opposition voices.
The barbarism meted out to the BJP karyakartas since May 2 this year, after the declaration of the Assembly poll results is unparalleled and incomparable with any kind of atrocity committed on any individual or group, in recent times. BJP leader and the current leader of the Opposition in the West Bengal Assembly, Suvendu Adhikari compared it with the Great Calcutta Killings of 1946. Even before the results in all the polled Assembly seats could be declared, the BJP karyakartas were subjected to mindless harassment and torture by the TMC cadres. Their homes were bulldozed, their shops forced shut, the female karyakartas were humiliated, paraded naked in full view of the entire village, molested and raped, often infront of their family members, including the minor children.
Even elderly ladies were not spared. The husbands of the women were told that they should send their wives to the ruling party cadres, if they wished to survive. The ones rendered homeless were forced to dish out hefty sums of money in order to return home or to re-start their businesses. They were often forced to hold aloft the TMC flag to exhibit their allegiance to the party. Their heads were tonsured, they were sprinkled with Ganga Jal and were forced to submit an undertaking that they would not be a part of the BJP any more. Many karyakartas were genuinely compelled to shift loyalties. Such was the fear and the common perception prevalent at that time was that the BJP in Bengal might fizzle away, buckling under TMC’s brute force.
The BJP leadership, though caught unawares by this sudden and early display of TMC barbarism, didnot rest for a day. Right into the second day of the violence, the BJP National President, J. P. Nadda visited Bengal along with his team to assess the situation and stand by the karyakartas. Since then, not only the BJP but the RSS and it’s student unit, the ABVP and other member units of the Sangh Parivar have been busy sending in funds to the hapless, homeless karyakartas, rehabilitating them and taking care of them till their problems could be redressed. The West Bengal Governor, Jagdip Dhankar has also been travelling along the expanse of Bengal – from Midnapore in South Bengal to Cooch Behar in North Bengal and has formulated a report on his own assessment of the scenario.
The BJP legal team, led by BJP leader and advocate Priyanka Tibrewal, has been running from pillar to post to seek justice for the beleaguered karyakartas. Even though the State Government and the left-leaning urban elites of Bengal have dismissed the poll violence story as fake, just the way they had claimed the killings of the BJP karyakartas in the past as suicides, the Calcutta High Court had ordered the state administration to immediately rehabilitate the victims of the post poll violence and had ordered an NHRC probe into the issue.
A seven member NHRC team led by Rajiv Jain visited several parts of West Bengal, met the violence – affected victims, at least those who could garner enough courage to speak up about their plight in the hands of ruling dispensation cadres. Even the NHRC members were attacked and intimidated, right in front of the Kolkata Police, more shockingly, in the elitist locality of Jadavpur, so as to prevent them to carry out their probe. However, the NHRC team carried on undeterred and submitted their report on July 13, which brought forth the saga of the sorry state of affairs in the state and the macabre treatment of BJP karyakartas for the last two months since the declaration of Assembly election results, something which has not stopped yet.
The situation prevailing in West Bengal is a manifestation of “law of the ruler” and not “rule of law”, the NHRC panel probing the violence stated, reflecting the terrible state apathy towards the victims earmarked by the refusal of the latter to even admit that such incidents occurred. The instant statement clearly put a stinker on the Mamata Banerjee – led state administration and it’s handling of the law and order situation of Bengal, as well as of their inability to reign in their rampaging cadres. The NHRC team visited 311 spots based on 1979 complaints covering 15000 victims. But unofficial sources, the ground workers and those affected state that the numbers are far larger and more than a lakh of the karyakartas are still homeless. The High Court is slated to hear the proceedings based on the NHRC report on July 22.
The BJP in Bengal, despite apprehensions, disappointment of defeat, betrayal by a section of their state leadership and karyakartas, who switched over to the TMC camp and another section of their supporters carrying on a mindless propaganda that the BJP leadership was indifferent to the plight of it’s karyakartas and thus serving TMC’s purpose by whitewashing the brutality of their cadres, has bounced back and is making their presence felt through various token protests, as much as they could manage to do, given the Covid protocol in place, against the various shortcomings of the state administration, like the vaccine scam.
In that light, it was anybody’s guess that they would choose the occasion of 21st July to voice their protest and carry on with a statewide agitation against the barbarism allegedly meted out on their karyakartas.
Over the years, the 21st July celebrations by the TMC have assumed the proportion of a carnival, with a grand show at Esplanade, the heart of Kolkata, the place where the police firing had taken place. However, the Left, whose regime had perpetrated the killings, have not only been dwindling in might in West Bengal, their onetime formidable fortress, but also drew a blank during the last Lok Sabha and Assembly elections.
Moreover, given their covert support to the TMC, highligted by branding them as ‘lesser evil’ by their staunchest of the supporters, they are seldom, if ever mentioned during the 21st July ‘Shahid Diwas’. It is needless to mention that, technically, it was the Congress workers who were killed – a party which is now in alliance with the Left. This speaks a thousand words about the loyalty and commitment of the Congress leadership as also of the TMC towards their dedicated workers who laid down their lives for the party. In the light of it the real purpose of observing the day, that of paying tribute to the political martyrs, seems to have been diluted. On the contrary, the 21st July platform has been used by the Mamata Banerjee led TMC leadership to scathingly attack their only political adversary, the BJP, a party who was nowhere in the picture in the context of the 21st July, 1993 police firing.
Due to the ongoing Covid pandemic, the 21st July function is being held virtually since last year. This year too, in won’t be an exception. In addition, this year, the TMC proposes to make a foray into national politics using the 21st July platform in a big way, keeping the 2024 Lok Sabha polls in sight. With that end in view, they have put up giant screens in Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh to air TMC supremo, Mamata Banerjee’s speech for the day.
It remains to be seen how well the BJP is able to counter the show with their ‘Save Democracy, Save West Bengal’ campaign today. They seem to be on the right track to have chosen the right day to launch an offensive on the TMC on what is believed to be their day. Their visibility and aggression on the ground, if carried on as per the expectations of their karyakartas and their staunch supporters, will help them immensely in gaining lost ground in Bengal. It will also serve to up the morale of the beleaguered BJP karyakartas.