It’s 2.30 pm when scores of young men in saffron and white kurtas walk out of the Kali Bari guesthouse in Mandir Marg. “They are RSS and BJP workers. They are here to ensure that our guests face no problem,” says Santosh Kumar, who is overseeing logistics at the guesthouse, where family members of 32 BJP workers from West Bengal who were allegedly killed by the Trinamool Congress cadres over the last two years are currently staying.
Earlier in the morning, around 10.30 am, they took the Howrah-New Delhi Rajdhani Express to Delhi to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ministerial colleagues.
Sadha Midha (47), a farm labourer from Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district, stands at the gate in tattered clothes, smoking a bidi. “My elder brother Haradhan Midha was an active BJP worker and campaigned extensively for Kalyan Chaubey (the BJP’s candidate in Krishnanagar Lok Sabha seat who lost to TMC’s Mahua Moitra). On May 20, after work, my brother was sitting next to the house in the field. About nine people came in a car and started beating him up mercilessly. Then they tied him to a tree,” he says, his eyes welling up.
Visiting the capital for the first time, Midha, who has come to attend the ceremony with the son of his deceased brother, has managed to walk only till the end of the lane. “Modi-ji niye esheche, tai eshechi (Modi-ji got me here). However, until I don’t see Modi-ji, I am not happy. But it’s extremely hot. I can’t bear the heat anymore.”
Pointing to his nephew, Midha says, “He is unemployed. Who is going to feed the family now?”
Standing next to him in a saffron kurta and blue jeans is Sukumar Mondal, a 30-year-old graduate who teaches philosophy to college students in Cooch Behar district. He has been invited to the swearing-in ceremony along with his deceased brother’s son Sanjay Mondal (20), who is currently unemployed. “Prior to the 2018 panchayat polls, Modi-ji had visited Cooch Behar for a jansabha (public meeting). When we were returning from the event, Trinamool workers started chasing our bus. That is when my brother Provat Mondal fell from the bus and died,” Sukumar says, adding, “But the BJP has been very helpful. Kailash Vijayvargiya (BJP in-charge of West Bengal) not only attended the funeral but also gave us Rs 40,000.”
“We are very poor. I don’t know how the family will sustain itself in the future. We just want the party to give Sanjay a job,” he says.
Around 3 pm, members of the BJP West Bengal unit direct the family members to board a bus to visit the party’s head office at Ashoka Road.
At the BJP headquarters, packed by media and security personnel, the family members get down the bus, holding pictures of their loved ones against their chest. Following a thorough security check, they are made to sit in a large room filled with chairs on the second floor of the building, where BJP workers loudly call out names and hand over invitation cards for the swearing-in ceremony.
Sitting on the floor of the swanky office, 48-year-old Jharna Pranti from North Nadia’s Krishnanagar municipality seems anxious. Accompanied by her son Khepa Pranti (20), who is still in school, she says, “My husband (Joydeb Pranti, a farm labourer) was the only earning member of the family. But after the (Lok Sabha) vote ended, they (Trinamool cadres) killed him. I also have a 10-year-old daughter. I don’t know how I will run the family after the savings are over. We have nothing,” she says, adding, “I want our MP, Narendra Modi, to ensure that my husband’s killers are hanged.”
Sitting in the first row are neighbours Manju Barman (37) and Jharna Sarkar (38) from Uttar Dinajpur district’s Daribhit village. The two women lost their sons in the September 2018 Daribhit High School violence, when police “fired bullets” to dispel protesters who had gathered to demonstrate against the appointment of certain teachers. “My son Tapas (a BA second-year student and an alumnus of the school) was protesting. That is when (West Bengal CM) Mamata’s police shot him,” Manju says, raging with anger. Jharna says, “We want a CBI investigation and statues of both the boys have to be erected in front of the school.”
Their husbands visited Delhi last year, 10 days after the two boys were killed, to meet President Ram Nath Kovind. Jharna’s husband Nilkamal Sarkar says, “When I met the President, I told him how the police killed my 21-year-old son Rajesh Sarkar. He had promised a detailed inquiry into the matter. But till now, he has done nothing.”
Manju adds, “The BJP leaders had then told us that if they win, they would initiate an investigation. After Deboshree Chowdhury’s victory (over Trinamool’s Kanaia Lal Agarwal), they have to now keep their promise.”