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Thursday, October 29, 2020

Killings on both sides: 12 since June in TMC vs BJP faceoff as Bengal poll season nears

The Indian Express visited the families of five of the 12 political workers killed over the past few months — two each in the Hooghly and South 24-Parganas districts, and one in Paschim Medinipur. In each of these places, the BJP is on the ascendant and poses a powerful challenge to the Trinamool.

Written by Ravik Bhattacharya , Joy Prakash Das | Hoogly, Paschim Medinipur, South 24 Parganas | Updated: October 3, 2020 7:22:05 am
The families of Paban Jana, son of a BJP worker in Paschim Medinipur who was killed in June (left), and TMC worker Israel Khan who was killed in Hooghly in August. (Photo by Partha Paul )

About eight months from Assembly elections, there is an eruption of grassroots political violence in West Bengal. Since the beginning of the phased ‘Unlock’ on June 1, at least 12 political workers — six from the BJP, five from Trinamool, and one from the Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI) — have been killed, and an MLA and three workers of the BJP have been found hanging.June 10: TMC worker Gautam Das was beaten to death in Burdwan.

June 18: Paban Jana, the son of a BJP worker in Paschim Medinipur (West Midnapore), died in hospital after being hacked in a clash the previous day.

July 3: TMC worker Ashwini Manna was beaten to death, allegedly by SUCI supporters in Baruipur, South 24-Parganas.

July 4: Sudhangshu Jana, a South 24-Parganas SUCI leader, was murdered and his home set on fire, allegedly by TMC workers.

July 5: Krishna Debnath was beaten in Nabadwip, Nadia; he died in hospital in Kolkata after two days. The BJP said he was a party worker.

July 16: BJP worker Bapi Ghosh was beaten to death in Nadia.

Also Read | Under CM Mamata Banerjee, Bengal has turned into a police state: Guv Dhankhar

August 6: TMC worker Israel Khan died in a crude bomb attack, allegedly by a rival

TMC faction in Hooghly.

August 15: BJP worker Sudarshan Pramanik was killed after a BJP-TMC clash over flag-hoisting in Hooghly.

September 6: BJP worker Robin Pal was killed in Kalna, Burdwan, after a clash over NREGS work, allegedly with local TMC workers.

September 17: Ganesh Sarkar was hacked to death near his home in Mathabhanga, Cooch Behar; his party, the TMC, accused the BJP of the murder.

September 17: Sheikh Nasim, the brother of a TMC worker, was shot during a clash between two TMC groups in Keshpur, Paschim Medinipur. A 14-year-old bystander, Sheikh Majahar, was also killed.

September 19: BJP worker Dipak Mondol was killed in a crude bomb attack while on his way back home after a sports tournament.

Over the same period, political workers have clashed violently at over two dozen places across the state, often after local BJP supporters have challenged Trinamool workers. On September 14, BJP worker Sambaru Burman was found on the road near his home in Cooch Behar with grievous injuries and was declared dead in a local hospital. Police said it was an “unnatural death case”.

Also Read | 2009 CPM leader murder case: NIA seeks custody of TMC leader Chhatradhar Mahato

In July, the sitting MLA from Hemtabad in North Dinajpur, Debendranath Roy, who switched from the CPM to BJP last year, was found hanging near his home. BJP workers Gautam Patra, Purnachandra Das, and Ganesh Rai too, were found hanging near their homes in South 24-Parganas, Purba Medinipur (East Midnapore) and Hooghly respectively. In each case, the BJP alleged murders by the TMC, which said all four men had died by suicide.

On September 14, the SPs of Baruipur police district and Hooghly (Rural) were replaced; the government said the transfers were “routine”.

TMC Lok Sabha MP Sougata Ray said the killings were not always political. “Two groups fought on local issues and unfortunately someone died. There is no plan like we used to see when the CPM was in power (before 2011). BJP leaders are giving provocative statements, but that’s just shadow boxing; they have neither workers nor a mass base in Bengal.”

Kailash Vijayvargiya, the BJP’s central observer for Bengal, accused the TMC of “conspiring to spread terror and fear” ahead of elections. “The killings and violence are part of that. Some TMC workers have died because of their internal factional feuding. We are capable of giving a befitting reply, but as a responsible party we have asked our workers to stay calm,” Vijayvargiya said.

Biswanath Chakraborty, professor of political science in Rabindra Bharati University, underlined that violence has been part of politics in Bengal since the 1960s. “It was there during Left rule, and Trinamool Congress came to power in an environment of violence. Under the TMC, it has got a structural form. Violence and politics are synonymous in Bengal. Having a violence-free election in Bengal is Utopia,” Prof Chakraborty said.

The Indian Express visited the families of five of the 12 political workers killed over the past few months — two each in the Hooghly and South 24-Parganas districts, and one in Paschim Medinipur. In each of these places, the BJP is on the ascendant and poses a powerful challenge to the Trinamool.

Hooghly

SUDARSHAN PRAMANIK: Pramanik, 40, a mason from Notibpur under Khanakul police station, had been with the BJP for a year and a half. During a clash between BJP and TMC workers who had gathered at their party offices in Sajarghat on Independence Day, the back of his neck was slashed with a sharp weapon. He died on the way to hospital; in retaliation, a bamboo bridge and homes of some TMC workers were set on fire.

Also Read | Bengal home of illegal bomb-making: Dhankhar

“He said his party was hoisting the national flag and he took some biscuits to distribute to there. He never came back, and the main culprits are free. Men in the village don’t stay at home at night for fear of attacks. Police are posted at the edge of the village but we do not trust them,” Pramanik’s wife Mamoni said.

Pramanik has left behind his wife, mother, and a son.

In the 2016 Assembly elections, the TMC defeated the CPM by 43,487 votes at the Khanakul seat. In the 2019 Lok Sabha election however, the TMC’s Aparupa Poddar could barely scrape through at the Arambagh (SC) seat of which Khanakul is part, defeating the BJP’s Tapan Kumar Ray by just 1,142 votes. The BJP’s voteshare jumped more than 32% over 2014, while the TMC’s fell by almost 11%.

ISRAEL KHAN: Khan, 38, was killed outside his home in Gholtajpur village after being hit by crude bombs. Khan’s brother Ismail is a TMC worker. The attackers threw bombs and fired from countrymade weapons, and ransacked his home and several other homes nearby. Ismail said they belonged to a different faction of the TMC, and were actually targeting him.

“Around 10.30 am (on August 6), a rival TMC group attacked our house. My brother was a zari worker, and was not involved in politics. He was hit on the head by a splinter, and then in the chest by a bomb. He died at the spot,” Ismail said, and showed bullet and bomb marks on the walls of their house.

Israel is survived by his wife, a son and a daughter.

“We have arrested six persons in connection with the murder in Khanakul, and seven in connection with the Gholtajpur incident. We are looking for the other accused,” Tathagata Basu, the now transferred SP of Hooghly (Rural) had said earlier.

In 2016, the TMC had defeated the CPM by 36,457 votes at the Arambagh Assembly seat. The Arambagh Assembly segment is part of the Arambagh Lok Sabha seat, and in 2019, the TMC candidate won only 4,007 more votes than the BJP candidate in this segment.
South 24-Parganas

ASHWINI MANNA & SUDHANGSHU JANA: TMC worker Manna, 65, was beaten to death in the Maipith area of Kultali, allegedly by an SUCI mob. The following morning, SUCI district secretariat member Sudhangshu Jana, 70, was killed allegedly by TMC workers, who also set his home ablaze.

Sudhangshu’s wife Gita, who now lives in a rented room in Jaynagar with their daughter Sujata, said: “The TMC men barged into our home and started to beat up my husband. They held me in one room, and killed my husband in another. They then hanged his body and set fire to the house. I managed to escape.”

Sujata, a schoolteacher, said: “I want justice for my father. He was a homoeopathic doctor and had dedicated his life to the party. He was respected by all.”

At Manna’s home, his youngest son Haradhan said his father and he were riding on different motorcycles when he heard gunshots and saw his father fall off the pillion. “He was then beaten to death. Not all the guilty have been arrested,” Haradhan said.

In his complaint, Haradhan has named one Buddheshwar Naskar as the main accused. Naskar is a local TMC leader, but Haradhan said that was “just show”, and Naskar was actually with “the opposition”. Haradhan said his father and he had worked for the CPM in 2016, but had switched to the TMC two and a half years ago. Naskar said he was a “victim of factional feud” in the ruling party. “I have been with the TMC for the last 20 years. They (the Manna family and their supporters) are newcomers who are trying to sabotage the party,” he said.

Police said five and eight people had been arrested for the killings of Manna and Jana respectively.

The CPM won the Kultali seat in the 2016 Assembly election, defeating the TMC candidate by 11,720 votes. In the Lok Sabha election of 2019, the TMC’s Pratima Mondal, led the BJP’s Ashok Kandari by 8,449 votes in this segment. Kultali is part of Jaynagar (SC) Lok Sabha seat, which the TMC won.

Paschim Medinipur

PABAN JANA: Jana, 23, was the son of BJP worker Ajay Jana, 55, and a migrant worker who had returned home following the lockdown.

“He and his brother worked in a hotel in Mumbai, and had just completed 14 days of quarantine at home. On June 17, Paban and I had gathered in the village with other BJP workers to go on a Griha Sampark Abhiyan. We were suddenly attacked, and Paban received injuries from sharp weapons. He died in a private hospital in Kolkata the next day. He has a wife and a year-old son,” Ajay said.

Ajay, who switched to the BJP from CPM in 2014, said he was receiving calls telling him to withdraw the complaint.

In 2016, the TMC defeated the CPM by 29,260 votes at the Dantan seat where the Janas are voters. In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the BJP led the TMC by 6,689 votes in this segment. The Lok Sabha seat (Medinipur) was won by the BJP’s West Bengal president Dilip Ghosh by almost 89,000 votes.

The BJP’s Paschim Medinipur district president Samit Kumar Das said: “There have been over 18 clashes since Unlock 1 in this district. We are prepared to give them a befitting reply. But the police are on their side and we do not want our workers to be jailed just a few months from the elections.”

Ajit Maity, the TMC district president, denied the party had a hand in the killing of any BJP worker. He blamed the clash between TMC factions in Keshpur, in which the brother of a TMC worker was killed on September 17, on a “conspiracy hatched by the BJP”.

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