Losing elections is part of democracy. Inciting insurrection is not. The way the election has unfolded, Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee clearly feels like she is in a corner. When she opens her mouth, it is either hate speech or wild conspiracy theories.
As she crisscrosses the state in her helicopter, she peddles all kinds of hateful stereotypes. The goons from UP and Bihar are coming. The businessmen from Gujarat and Rajasthan are coming.
Her ramblings border on the insane, but her message is the same everywhere. Be very scared. Become more hateful.
In between, there are vulgar street abuses. The Chief Minister leads by example. Other party leaders back her up, adding abuses of their own. In a heated election campaign, there might be a few verbal slips. But there are no slips here. The abusive language is deliberate, used over and over again at all levels of the party. The official social media handles of the party drip with similar hate, abusing Union Cabinet ministers and other Chief Ministers over their ethnic identities.
Of late, the conspiracy theories have taken an even uglier turn than usual. For a while now, opposition parties that keep losing elections have made allegations of EVM fraud. But Mamata Banerjee goes a step forward and accuses central forces of voter suppression. Much like her hate speeches, there is no filter. She tells people explicitly to round up the CRPF and resist them.
Now see what happened in Cooch Behar the other day. A rumour spread that central forces were stopping people from voting. A mob of some 150 people gathered and attacked the CISF. The jawans opened fire and now four people are dead. Their names were Jobed Ali, Chhalmu Mia, Amzad Hossain and Nameed Mia.
Mamata Banerjee has forgotten that she is a sitting chief minister. Even if she loses elections, well over a third of the electorate is still expected to vote for her. These people look up to her. They hang on to her every word. And what happens when an out of control chief minister tells her supporters to round up central forces and attack them? You get a tragedy of the kind that happened in Cooch Behar.
Let there be no two ways about this. The Bengal CM has been openly inciting insurrection in her rallies. And her supporters are beginning to listen to her. Is there a surprise here?
The incident in Cooch Behar, with four people dead, should have given her pause. It should have restored her with a sense of responsibility as a high ranking public representative. But Mamata Banerjee has already gone too far beyond the point of reason. She now labels the incident a “genocide.” Now put this together with her continuing tirade against “outsiders” and see how dangerous this gets.
So far, the Election Commission has been remarkably soft on Mamata Banerjee over her pronouncements. This is part of her liberal privilege. She has got a pass from the media, the EC and wider “civil society” over her hate comments against other ethnicities as well as her call to minority voters to unite behind her. This is despite the fact that these comments were very deliberate and repeated over and over again. Compare to how Yogi Adityanath was harassed all through the 2019 campaign because of one verbal slip where he said “Modi ji ki sena.”
But this softness of the authorities has only made her bolder. This is getting to the point of actual danger. Already, there are four people dead. I fear that Bengal could be on the brink of unimaginable tragedy in the remaining phases of the election and after the votes are counted. What will we do if Mamata Banerjee refuses to accept the result of the election and urges her supporters to start resisting on the streets?
In fact, she has already done that. But, the authorities have done nothing to stop her, or even censure her. The media and so called civil society have been indulgently silent. Will this help her get better or make her worse?
One final thing. Do not let anyone, from the media or otherwise, tell you that political violence is part of the culture of Bengal. You see, political violence is not something that occurs in nature. Neither is it some kind of legacy that the dead pass on to the living. For political violence to occur, there has to be someone doing it, someone encouraging it, and someone who is deliberately shutting their eyes to it.
Who are these three entities? For 70 years, the leaders who ruled over West Bengal encouraged this violence to suit their political ends. Their ground level cadres carried out this violence. And finally, there was the liberal media that covered up these stories.
Blame these three entities and what they did for 70 years, not the culture of Bengal. In an election where cultural pride has become such a hot button issue, the biggest insult to Bengali culture has gone unnoticed. Ironic, is it not?