WEST Bengal Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi on Saturday visited the riot-affected areas of Asansol and Ranigunj, meeting victims and officials. The four-and-a-half-hour tour ended without a halt at any of the minority-dominated areas, with police officers saying “he never asked to go” and “if he had, it would have been difficult to take him there”.
Asked about this at a press conference he held after his visit, the Governor did not reply.
In the riots that broke out on March 26, a day after Ram Navami, Mahesh Mondol and Sibtullah Rashidi were killed in Ranigunj and Asansol in West Burdwan district respectively, while many people were injured. Over a dozen houses were burnt and shops ransacked.
The state government had earlier dissuaded Tripathi from visiting the riot-hit areas a day after the violence. At his press conference at the Asansol Circuit House, the Governor said he had talked to the IGP, district magistrate and officials to get an update and was satisfied with what he had been told. “I have come here with a message of peace and I appeal to all the people to be in harmony and respect each other,” Tripathi said. “Everybody should respect each other’s religious festivals.”
Tarik Anwar, a schoolteacher of Muslim-dominated Chelidanga that saw clashes, said, “We heard that the Governor was coming. We expected him to meet us. He is the head of the government, not any community. He came so close but did not visit our areas. At least he should have visited the imam who lost his child.”
Sibtullah, who was killed, lived near a chowk in Asansol that Tripathi visited.
Nadim Reza, 16, also from Chelidanga, said, “My friends and I wanted to tell him that we couldn’t appear for our higher secondary examinations because of the current situation, that if he could do something to allow us a re-test. We had studied hard. There are around 200 students who could not take the exam.”
“We do not know why, but our respected governor did not visit any minority areas in Asansol. We expected he would come and listen to us too,” said Md Nasim Ansari, the Trinamool Congress Councillor of Ward No. 25, which includes areas that were hit by the clashes.
The Governor first visited a community hall in Kalyanpur Housing in Asansol, but as the people who had taken shelter there had left two days earlier, he could only talk to some bystanders. Next he made an unscheduled visit to Chandmari, one of the worst-affected areas, and inspected some charred shops.
The people who thronged him to narrate their complaints later accused police of shielding the Governor from them. One person, who didn’t want to be named, alleged a cover-up to hide the extent of the violence. “Police have been cleaning the roads since the morning. They asked some of us to be at our homes and open our shops,” he said. Black plastic sheets covered several burnt vehicles.
On March 29, the Centre had sought a report from West Bengal on the riots and offered to send paramiltary forces. While it sent the report, the Bengal government had rejected the offer of troops.
One of the victims, Gita Devi, shouted out to Tripathi that her grocery shop had been burnt. “Our house was also looted and torched. We are living on the streets,” she said.
The Governor’s convoy next moved to a chowk, about 15 minutes from Chandmari. The area stood desolate, and Tripathi could only talk to a few police officials. He didn’t go to the nearby Muslim areas including, apart from Chelidanga, Rail Par, Ok Road, D C Roy Road, where the clashes took place.
Police officials, who didn’t want to be named, said the lanes were too narrow in those areas for the Governor’s convoy, including the media and security. “Who will take the risk? The areas are not secured,” said an officer.
Another officer said on the condition of anonymity that the Governor never asked to go there. “If he had, it would have been difficult for us to take him. The area was also not on the scheduled visiting spots. We showed him where the violence started and briefed him on the arrests and present situation.”
After Asansol, Tripathi visited a tea shop in Ranigunj from where the violence began on March 26, and then spread. “I told him I am 84. I have never seen such riots here. This should not have happened,” said Biswanath Saraf, who managed to meet the Governor.
State Education Minister Partha Chatterjee said they had no objection to the Governor visiting riot-hit areas, but asked why he went only to “select areas”. “His post is that of a constitutional head. People may question his impartiality,” he said.
BJP state secretary Sayantan Basu said the Trinamool government had no right to talk on the issue, having “earlier not allowed the Governor or an elected MP (Asansol MP Babul Supriyo)” to visit the violence-hit areas. “It is not out of respect but out of fear of Article 356 that they allowed it today. There is absolute law and order breakdown in the state,” he said.