Clashes between members of the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the ousted CPI(M) are routine grist for West Bengal’s political mill. But in a clear sign of shifting winds, there’s been a dramatic surge in the number of incidents in which the TMC and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are violently pitted against each other.
A scrutiny of detailed police records, accessed by The Indian Express, shows that in the year 2012, there were just 13 clashes between TMC and the BJP, this climbed to 48 the following year and in just the first seven months of 2014 for which data is available — and during which the BJP made significant electoral gains — the number of such clashes has risen to as many as 196. Projected for this year, that’s more than a ten-fold jump.
While TMC vs CPM violence still dominates, numbers suggest no marked change: there were 1,916 incidents in 2013, and 802 incidents between January 1 and June 30 this year.
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Although there has been only one casualty and 250 injured BJP workers, the number of TMC vs BJP clashes, averaging more than one a day, are a testament to the new battlelines being drawn in a fierce turf war in rural West Bengal in which the TMC’s traditional political rivals, the Left and, more recently, the Congress, are fast being replaced by the BJP.
The reason isn’t hard to find. With the Left weakened and in disarray, the BJP is aggressively working overtime to make inroads into the state. Mission 150+ (the state assembly has a strength of 294) is how the West Bengal unit of the party describes its goal for the 2016 Assembly polls.
Currently, it does not have a single member in the House. But going by the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP is the winner in as many as 21 assembly segments.
Over the next fortnight, the heaviest of BJP heavyweights are expected to be here. Arun Jaitley met the city’s intellectuals, hosted by the state BJP unit, on Sunday. Party president Amit Shah is expected to unveil his plan for West Bengal in the first week of September when he holds a workers’ meet and addresses a public rally in Kolkata.
A district wise break-up of political clashes shows that the maximum number of TMC-BJP clashes have taken place in Bankura in the first six months of 2014, totalling about 24; followed by Cooch Behar (23), Burdwan (20), South 24 Parganas (20), West Midnapore-Junglemahal (17), Hooghly (16), East Midnapore (10), Nadia (8) and Jalpaiguri (4).
These numbers run parallel with another trend: the rise in vote share of the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls in 2014 as compared to 2009. If Bankura tops the list of districts with TMC-BJP violence, there is a reason. In the Bishnpur Lok Sabha seat in Bankura district, the BJP’s vote share was up almost five-fold, from 4 per cent in 2009 to 21 per cent in 2014 and in the Bankura seat, from 6 per cent in 2009 to 15 per cent in 2014.
In Cooch Behar Lok Sabha elections, the BJP’s vote share was 17.2 per cent, up from barely 6 per cent in 2009. In Jalpaiguri, the BJP’s vote share almost doubled to 17 per cent from 9.5 per cent in 2009.
In Hooghly district, in the two seats of Hooghly and Serampore, the vote share of the BJP went up to 22 per cent and 23 per cent respectively as against 5 per cent in 2009. In Birbhum, which recorded the first “political casualty” of a BJP supporter after the May 16 results, the BJP vote share which was at a low of 4.8 per cent in 2009 shot to over 17.5 per cent in 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
A senior BJP leader said that in large parts of Junglemahal, comprising Bankura and West Midnapore districts, party offices vacated by the CPM and other Left parties were converted to BJP party offices and grassroots units of the BJP have come up with shifting allegiance of Left cadres.
Though the number of TMC-BJP clashes is officially recorded as six in Birbhum district during this period, it witnessed the first political murder of a BJP supporter on June 7 when Rahim Sheikh was attacked in his home and killed. Rahim, a CPM supporter, had joined the BJP after the Lok Sabha polls as did several hundred in Kanur village.
TMC leaders initially warded off allegations that the murder was committed by their supporters, but later the police registered a complaint against a TMC block level leader who had allegedly incited a mob to attack Rahim for joining the BJP.
The killing drew a BJP delegation, including Balbir Punj, Siddharth Nath Singh, Kirti Azad and Abdul Rashid, to visit the village and assess the situation. This was the second BJP central team to visit the state, another one having arrived on May 27 in Sandeshkhali in Basirhat sub-division of North 24 Parganas where TMC supporters had sprayed bullets on an Adivasi settlement, critically injuring nearly 13 BJP supporters.
While the TMC claimed that the attack was over a land dispute, the BJP held that the Adivasis were traditional BJP voters for long and had to pay for being so.
Arup Khan, the Bankura district president of the TMC, acknowledged that the BJP is trying to make inroads but at the same time claimed that the CPM continues to be the principal adversary.
Similarly, Cooch Behar district has witnessed a sharp rise in TMC-BJP clashes and the district TMC president Rabindranath Ghosh said: “After the polls there was a flood of CPM and Forward Bloc supporters joining the BJP. Red jersey became saffron over night and they were trying to foment trouble. But the tide has subsided to some extent.”
Siddhartha Nath Singh, BJP leader in charge of West Bengal, said the actual number of clashes is much more than what government records reveal. “It is a sign of nervousness of Mamata Banerjee and her TMC. Unfortunately, much of the terror that has been unleashed on BJP workers is state-sponsored. The objective is to intimidate the swelling ranks of the BJP in Bengal and force the people to migrate to the TMC,” he said.
When contacted about this emerging political trend in Bengal, Sivaji Ghosh, ADG, Law and Order, West Bengal Police, Anuj Sharma, IG, Law and Order and Siddinath Gupta, IG (West ) having jurisdiction over Bankura, Purulia, West Midnapore, had the same answer: “We have nothing to comment.”