Union minister Babul Supriyo’s threat to protestors in Raniganj, Asansol that he “will skin them alive” doesn’t behove the dignity of his office. The minister had violated prohibitory orders on Thursday to visit an area where two persons died in clashes following Ram Navami processions. The minister’s coarse remarks and brazen behaviour are only likely to embolden his supporters to defy the law. Supriyo has since defended his actions on social media, indicating that he prefers to play to a partisan gallery than uphold the constitutional values he is expected to as an MP and minister. It is understandable that Supriyo wants to be with his people at a time of crisis, but he is mistaken to think that leadership is about identifying with the baser instincts of the mob. As a public representative, his task was to calm tempers and convince party workers to respect the law and let peace prevail in the region.
West Bengal has been simmering since Ram Navami last Sunday when the sangh parivar affiliates, defying a police ban, took out processions with the marchers displaying weapons. At least four persons have been killed in the violence that followed. While the Union home ministry offered to send paramilitary forces to control the violence, BJP leaders in the state have been keeping the pot boiling. State chief Dilip Ghosh had set the tone of the Ram Navami mobilisations by stating that he will defy the police and take out armed rallies. Leaders like Supriyo, who represents Asansol in Parliament, took the cue from Ghosh and have been issuing polarising statements. For instance, in a series of tweets, Supriyo accused the state administration of appeasing the Muslims and claimed that “goons from the minority community” are assaulting Hindus.
Communal incidents have been far too frequent in West Bengal. Political leadership in the state must acknowledge that this state of constant tension is unlikely to help Bengal rebuild its economy and generate jobs. An underdeveloped economy with an army of unemployed youth is a tinder-box waiting to explode. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee will have to take the lead and raise the level of political discourse in the state, especially if she wants to usher in the change she has promised the electorate. The BJP too will need to give up its polarising tactics to be seen as a party of government; leaders like Supriyo with their irresponsible statements are not helping its cause.