Temperatures soared in West Bengal and politics took centrestage after violence on the streets erupted again in Shibpur in Howrah district Friday, a day after communal clashes during Ram Navami festivities.
The ruling TMC traded charges with the Opposition BJP while rival Congress too targeted the Mamata Banerjee government, saying the incident reflected the “sheer failure of this administration”.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah spoke to Governor C V Ananda Bose to take stock of the situation while Leader of Opposition and state BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari filed a PIL in the Calcutta High Court over the incidents and attacks on Ram Navami processions in Howrah and Dalkhola.
“I have prayed for a NIA probe and immediate deployment of Central forces in such areas for containing the situation, restoration of law and order and for saving innocent lives,” Adhikari said, adding that the PIL had been listed for Monday.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee blamed the BJP for the violence: “Religion never condones unrest, religion speaks of peace.. This was BJP’s plan to create riots. Yesterday, the BJP did it in about 100 places in the country. The Howrah incident is very unfortunate. We repeatedly said the procession should not take that route. However, criminals entered with guns, petrol bombs, bulldozers and various other things, and attacked where minorities live.”
Stone pelting in West Bengal’s Howrah, day after clashes during Ram Navami processionhttps://t.co/eY7FGB3tWq
📹 @HEYPARTHA pic.twitter.com/Vqhjirnld7
“There is some failure of the police, I admit. Action will be taken… This wasn’t done by Hindus. We are all Hindus. This was done by BJP, Hindu Mahasangh, Bajrang Dal… and the different names that they have. They attacked directly and intentionally,” the CM said.
TMC national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee too targeted the BJP, and pointed to a meeting between Shah and Adhikari in New Delhi recently.
Addressing a press conference, Banerjee said, “I ask everyone to take note of the chronology. First, they meet the Home Minister, then they come back to Bengal, hold a public meeting in Shyambazar, and then they say keep an eye on the television. The very next day, riots break out. Who is responsible for this? … They tried to do the same communal politics during the 2021 elections and lost the polls… We are people of Bengal. Why should we get into this Hindu-Muslim divide?”.
A statement from Raj Bhavan said the Governor and the Chief Minister had “a confidential discussion” to review the situation. “The State Government was directed to ensure that foolproof arrangements are made to maintain law and order effectively and action taken against miscreants firmly. The Chief Minister assured that strict and decisive action will be taken to prevent recurrence of such criminal intimidation,” it stated.
“Those who resort to violence under the illusion that they can hoodwink the people will soon realise they are in a fool’s paradise. There will be effective and concerted action to book the culprits and bring them before the law. Setting fire to public property, that too on the sacred Ram Navami day, is a highly provocative act and will be viewed seriously. Hanuman set fire to Lanka to uphold Dharma. Those who resort to fire for Adharma will be made to swallow the fire themselves or those who are mandated to douse the fire, will do it decisively,” it stated.
“Bengal stands united against the perpetrators of this heinous crime against humanity. Trouble makers and abettors will be made to realise that they cannot play Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde in Bengal anymore. Police should be objective, strong and fair, and should not let down their masters and the peace-loving people. Raj Bhavan will keep its eyes and ears open to ensure protection to the life, property and dignity of the common man,” the statement said.
#WATCH | West Bengal: Police personnel conduct flag march after ruckus during ‘Rama Navami’ procession in Howrah where several vehicles were torched. pic.twitter.com/W845mdQQnQ
— ANI (@ANI) March 30, 2023
Congress leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury hit out at the Mamata Banerjee government, saying it had failed miserably in preventing violence.
“There is a communal tinge behind this incident. On a number of occasions earlier as well, that particular area witnessed communal clashes. This time also, it has occurred. It is sheer failure of this administration. Because the Ram Navami rally changed its direction… So who should be held responsible for this kind of dereliction of duty, for this kind of indifference,” he said.
“The state government of West Bengal failed miserably in forestalling this kind of communal conflict. It is also outlandish to note that the ruling dispensation of Bengal and the BJP both are simply… They are heading Ram Navami rally in a competitive manner. This is unprecedented in the political history of Bengal… Sometimes I get confused, and I wonder whether there is a competition (between the TMC and BJP) on who is the bigger Hindu,” Chowdhury said.
The CPM blamed both TMC and BJP for “provoking violence”. State CPM secretary Mohammed Salim said, “Both these parties are trying to create trouble in the state for political gains. Both are misleading the people over the incident. We want those who are behind this to be arrested and punished.”
(PTI adds: Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur condemned the violence and hit out at Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, alleging that her government remained “a mute spectator” when devotees of Lord Ram were attacked and injured.
“The way journalists were attacked and stones were pelted on those taking out the Ram Navami procession, nothing could be more shameful than this,” he told reporters, demanding action against those involved in the violence.
“Attack on journalists cannot be tolerated. But why are those who talk about press freedom silent,” he asked.)
In Shibpur, tensions soared after a fresh flare-up around 1.30 pm Friday. A mob went on the rampage, attacking shops, vehicles. Stones were pelted and police and the media were targeted.
Many in the mob wore masks and hurled stones at houses and shops. In the morning, the situation was peaceful as police conducted a route march for area domination, and the road was open for traffic.
The situation took a violent turn in the afternoon. As stone-pelting began, people residing in apartments locked themselves inside and shops downed shutters.
The mob attacked media vehicles and reporters, leaving some injured, and chased police personnel.
Prohibitory orders have been imposed in the area. “So far, 36 people have been arrested. Efforts are being made to bring the situation under control,” a senior police officer said.
– With ENS from Kolkata