Purulia Lynchings: The Fall Out
BJP has emerged as a strong political factor in West Bengal's Purulia
NEW DELHI/KOLKATA: Trilochan Mahato, a 20-year old was hung to death last Thursday with “If you are a BJP member this is what you deserve” scribbled on his shirt.
Dulal Kumar was found dead and hanging from a high tension electric tower on Saturday morning. There was no writing on his body, however one link that bound them together was that they were both ‘Booth Volunteers’ for the Bharatiya Janata Party in Purulia for the recent panchayat elections.
Purulia, in West Bengal, has been a place of active political violence since the 1980’s when the Naxal movement was surging in Bengal. It provided a constant challenge to the ruling Left government of that time. ’Operation Lalgarh’ which was launched in 2009 by the Left government with help of CRPF and state police proved to be effective in flushing out Naxalites from the region at that time. However things changed significantly with the Trinamool Congress assuming power in the state with a thumping majority of 187 seats in the 2011 general assembly elections.
It was reported by several news publications that the Maoists went ahead and supported the ‘Trinamool Congress’ coming to power and chose to become allies with them against the then ‘Communist government’ in power. In a CD which was released on February 7, 2011 and a written statement the month prior, CPI (Maoist) leader Bikram declared the Maoists’ support towards the TMC, which he labeled the “bourgeoisie alternative,” in West Bengal.
“Due to our joint efforts,” declared Bikram, who was a member of the Maoists’ Bengal-Jharkhand-Orissa regional committee, “the demon called CPI-M [CPM] is on the back foot in West Bengal ... people want this ... we also want to maintain and strengthen our relationship with [TMC leader] Banerjee.”
The Maoist leader couched parts of his January statement in the form of an appeal to Banerjee. Having declared that “for the sake of peace and development,” the Maoists will “not boycott the elections and will participate in the peace process proposed by you,” Bikram urged Banerjee to quit her post as Railway Minister in the Union government, withdraw from the Congress Party-led UPA coalition, and oppose Operation Green Hunt, the central government-led anti-Maoist counter-insurgency campaign. (Source- Hindu,India today).
Post 2011 elections, the Maoist insurgency received a roadblock in West Bengal and their activities declined significantly in the state largely due to the success of the T.M.C government which went ahead and carried out dialogue and massive surrender campaigns to encourage the Maoists to give up their arms so that they could be integrated into mainstream society. Gora Bhattacharya, a party worker with the CPI(M-L) in Purulia, states “The Maoists never really gave up their power in their region, they dropped their arms but became a political cadre base under the new political party out there.” However, the shift of power took place with a common denominator, which was the presence of a power wielding caste.
In Purulia there are several ethnic tribes present; some of them are categorized into ‘Scheduled Caste’ and the rest into ‘Scheduled Tribe’ and ‘Other Backward Classes’. Out of all these different castes and tribes which are at play, the Kurmi Mahato are the most dominant numerically and economically and according to the locals, they have been keeping the rise of other ethnic groups in check with inter-caste marriages, and have come out as the ‘political class’ in the district.
The Adivasi Mancha which emerged as a strong political platform post the departure of Maoists was proliferated by the Mahato caste in large numbers. ‘“Today, the Adivasi Mancha is one of the strongest organizations, which has a dedicated cadre base and is numerically strong.”, claims Dibyendu Dey, a resident of Balarampur.
Shrishtidhar Mahato, a senior local TMC leader, who was the Zilla head in Purulia, recently lost elections to his B.J.P counterpart in the panchayat elections. Several people have alleged that Shrishtidhar Mahato was a long time member of the Adivasi Manch and an ex-Maoist squad leader in the area, however, later on he surrendered to the state government led by TMC.
Like Shrishtidhar, a lot of other ex-Maoists surrendered to the state government and were quickly turned into civic volunteers by TMC and formed a significant amount of cadre base in the ‘Jangalmahal’. Maoist insurgency was also reduced to a surprising low intensity in the meantime. However, another political party slowly started to make inroads in Bengal and it was not the CPI(M) or Congress; it was BJP which was looking to make its electoral presence in Bengal.
Prior to the panchayat elections and Trilochan being killed, political violence already started making its initial presence felt in Purulia with the clashes which emerged during the ‘Ram Navami celebrations’. “The clashes mostly took place with the ruling TMC which sighted this as an attempt to spurt out communal divide, and a counter ‘Ram Puja’ was carried out by them in an attempt to challenge our rallies”, Rajesh Chinna (BJP leader in Purulia) said.
“There are three factors which are working for BJP, leading to the increase in its vote share in Purulia”, claimed Gora Bhattacharya (CPI-ML). “The first being a lot of people from the neighboring state of Jharkhand, which is ruled by B.J.P, are proliferating in Purulia which shares a porous border with the state. Second, rumours have been circulated that leaders like Shrishtidhar Mahato and several others who were ex-Maoists have amassed a lot of wealth under the rule of TMC which has dissatisfied a major section of the ‘Mahato community’ and hence they are joining the BJP. Finally, considering BJP has grown in size and share, it has a lot of funds which is generally seen as a driving force for getting the maximum number of cadres for any political party.”
In Purulia, the TMC and BJP won 839 and 645 seats respectively. Out of the 38 zilla parishad seats, the TMC had won 26 seats and BJP nine seats. BJP does have a massive political framework established in the district with setups like ‘Banabashi Kalyan Ashram’ and several other loose organizations which are meant to unite the tribals and generate a cadre base for the party. Trilochan Mahato was pursuing History (H) from a local government college. He was a part of BJP’s ‘Millenium Voters’ campaign and was one of the 10 young people selected by the party to be a booth supervisor during the Panchayat elections. “His father couldn't understand why they would kill his son, just because he worked with BJP. He never caused harm to anyone”, claims Debjit Sarkar (West Bengal President of BJP Yuva Morcha). Dulal Kumar’s body didn't have any writing scribbled on it, however he was also a part of the same booth volunteer force and his death is mysterious as he went missing on Friday evening and his bike was found near a pond, after which his body was found. The police have not yet confirmed whether it is a murder or suicide.
Abhishek Banerjee, a M.P of TMC and brother of the current C.M, has been accused by several leaders across political parties to have made provocative statements, claiming to wipe out the entire opposition in the run-up to the panchayat elections. Aadhir Chaudhary (Head of Pradesh Congress Committee Bengal) states, “Post Abhishek Banerjee’s announcement, the crime committed was an expected aftermath.”
Mohammad Salim (CPM MP) also states, “TMC goons are sucking the blood of common people. We saw this in the Panchayat elections.”
BJP President Amit Shah tweeted, "Distressed to know about yet another killing of BJP ‘karyakarta’ Dulal Kumar in Balrampur, West Bengal. This continued brutality and violence in the land of West Bengal is shameful and inhuman. Mamata Banerjee's government has completely failed to maintain law and order in the state.”
In the wake of two alleged murders in the district, the West Bengal government on Saturday ordered the transfer of the district Superintendent of Police, ANI reported. Shubhasish Chakraborty (Rajya Sabha MP with the TMC) asserted that the Trinamool Congress condemns the death of the two people and that the investigation has been handed over to the C.I.D. “In most cases, there are personal conflicts which get political colour; also BJP’s electoral jump is largely because most of the people who won on B.J.P ticket are ex-Trinamool members. The BJP’s Organisation Structure is not yet as strong as ours, also in the recent bypolls, the margin of victory of TMC has been overwhelming, hence we refuse to see BJP as an immediate political challenge.”