On the 2nd of May, the media reported on democracy, finally triumphing over ‘tyranny’ and ‘fascism’. Mamata Banerjee had summarily and decisively defeated BJP. A hard-fought battle, indeed. Through it all, I kept thinking back to the time I was interrogated in the police headquarters at Lal Bazaar, by an officer of the ‘Rowdy Department’. While TMC and BJP celebrated their victories, TMC for sweeping the state in a landslide and BJP for bettering their score, I battled with my own thoughts.
As the actual wins continued to trickle in, we had just about wrapped up our election coverage at 10:00 PM, after reporting the victory of Suvendu Adhikari over Mamata Banerjee in Nandigram and the trends, that had stabilized somewhere about 77 seats for BJP and 210 for TMC. I was exhausted and I hardly spoke to my family. Fought with a dear friend even. As I could hear sounds of celebration out on the roads, a part of me knew that these celebratory sounds would soon turn into war bugles by the winning party and cries of despair by the losers. And so it did.
Soon after TMC swept the state, news of startling violence began to trickle in. Avijit Sarkar was brutally lynched to death by alleged TMC cadres and just before his death, he had uploaded two videos on Facebook where he had narrated his harrowing ordeal. He had spoken about how TMC goons had even tortured and killed his adopted puppy. BJP karyakartas were being murdered, lynched and their homes being burnt to ashes and looted.
In another incident, alleged TMC goons were seen thrashing female BJP workers in broad daylight in Kendamari village in Nandigram. BJP National General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya tweeted about the incident, along with a disturbing video. It could be seen that the two BJP workers were thrashed to the ground by two men. They pulled the victims by the hair while the onlookers stood as mute spectators.
The man behind the camera could be heard encouraging the accused men to continue with their assault. The women fought back and tried to defend themselves after being assaulted in full public glare. One of the men intervened and the two victims could later be seen walking away.
With the honour and lives of women being trampled upon and men being killed, another disturbing news came to the fore. Swapan Dasgupta, the BJP candidate from Tarakeshwar tweeted about 1,000 Hindus families in Birbhum, ready to flee the area because of the carnage by TMC marauders.
Through it all, through the several pictures of carnage and bloodshed, through the several videos where you could hear the desperate pleas for help, I kept my head down and worked, intermittently talking to my friends and family about just how distressing and dire the situation really was. Disillusioned. Resigned. Defeated. Broken. The thing about violence is that it always happens to “other people” until it starts knocking on your door. The distance that journalists can build between them and the macabre incidents they report is rather staggering. Unphased by the carnage, we end up reporting thousands of cases where men are murdered, women are raped and killed and humanity dies in darkness.
But for me, this felt different. Perhaps because I am a hypocrite. Perhaps because I felt the pain of others far more when I could almost smell the blood from my office. Perhaps because all the other cases I reported felt to have happened to ‘others’, far away from my own circle of security. This felt too close. And as it did, I felt unbridled rage taking over.
The history of politics in Bengal has always been violence. Every regime that governed Bengal came to power stepping on the dead bodies of Hindus laying on the ground soaked with their blood. Mamata Banerjee came to power after the Nandigram carnage, where thousands were killed by the Communist regime. The communists ruled with an iron fist, killing thousands in their regime’s wake. In 1972, when the Congress won, it had unleashed massive violence on polling day.
There were several allegations of rigging. There was gunfire, unbridled violence to either stop people from voting or force them to vote the Congress way.
In a Telegraph article, it is noted:
“There was gunfire and bombing. The Congress had taken complete control of the election set-up and was freely rigging the polls,” said Gopal Banerjee, 56, a CPM leader from Baranagar who had accompanied Basu on a round of the constituency as an 18-year-old that day. “Jyotibabu visited a few polling stations and decided to withdraw his candidature. ‘This cannot be tolerated,’ he told us,” Banerjee said.
And right before the 1972 election, where Congress won, there was the Sainbari massacre. Where a family of Congress supporters were brutalised in the most ghastly manner. A mother was fed rice, soaked in her murdered son’s blood. Nirupam Sen, a known figure of the CPI(M) party, subsequently inducted as a member of the party’s central committee, was alleged to have led this massacre.
Soon after the incident, the then Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi visited the Sain house to console the family. To share their grief. To tell them that they were not alone and the party leadership that the family gave their life for, was going to stand by them, toe to toe. Did it matter that she was the Prime Minister of India? Not really. She was also the leader of a party that was in power and as a leader, it was her duty to make sure that her soldiers knew she would not abandon them.
The conspicuous absence of BJP leaders
Today, when BJP leaders are being killed, the party response has been abysmal, to say the least. For hours after the killings started, the party leadership was conspicuous in its absence. While the official handles of BJP Bengal etc were tweeting, there was not one leader who was visible. On the ground or even on the far more protected space of social media. One could argue that regional strife should be handled by regional leaders. Perhaps someone like Babul Supriyo. A young, dynamic leader who rose from the ashes (not so much) and led his party to victory (well, not so much either) and has braved the violence to stand by those who look up to him (don’t think anyone does, and no he did not). He instead, tweeted a helpless tweet, yelping for help himself.
We r all doing everything that’s possible•Plz understand 1 thing that sadly I wil not b able to reqch a karyakarta’s place cuz my Car wil b attacked immediately•TMChhi goons R out in the open rioting & police hv tucked themselves inside safely•But trying everything sincerely https://t.co/ptcFnNMP1L— Babul Supriyo (@SuPriyoBabul) May 3, 2021
Babul tweeted helplessly, inspiring little faith in his leadership or the leadership of the local unit of BJP. His message was rather clear.. I will tweet. But “I won’t stand by my own people because I am out of the cojones I showed while asking for votes and asking karyakartas to put their lives on the line to get me and my party elected”.
In fact, there are audio clips doing the round where BJP karyakartas on the ground are basically admitting that the leadership is absent. There is no party. No sangathan. No leadership. They have been left alone to fend for themselves and protect themselves from the marauders after the leadership promised them that they will not be abandoned.
Amidst all of this, BJP has declared that it would do a “nation wide dharna” and that JP Nadda would visit the families of the karyakartas under siege from TMC.
Let us take a moment here to evaluate the response by BJP. While even leaders like Suvendu Adhikari, who is arguable the most powerful leader today in Bengal after Mamata Banerjee, is being attacked, BJP has chosen to take the path of Gandhi, which essentially means sitting quietly and doing absolutely nothing. What else is a Dharna, really? Just sit and hope that the public shaming helps shame the murderers? The marauders? The absolute shameless?
Optics matter more than the lives of party workers?
The grand issue with BJP is that while it sits in government with a brute majority, it has not the faintest clue how to wield that power for its own people. The opposition, however, is far less idealistic. They don’t care about what people who oppose them would think. They care about what their allies, their voters would think. BJP, on the other hand, appears to care far more about what the international media would write about them, what the Lutyens journalists would tweet, and how Congress would use it to leverage their own political fortunes. Their supporters can scream hoarse but statesman-itis that seems to afflict the BJP leadership is far more concerned about the optics for the ones that rather see them dead and gone than the ones who put their lives on the line for them, thinking that the party itself would keep working for their ideological, political and civilisational existence.
With Bengal, the party knew exactly how the election would end. If they won, TMC would unleash their wrath on their cadre out of frustration. If they lose, which they now have, TMC would unleash their wrath on their cadres for pure retribution. Having known that, the local leadership made up of butterflies like Babul Supriyo have gone “underground” and expressed their inability to help their cadre.
The BJP leadership told the local cadre to go forth and fight. To make this last stand for them. Because they would be protected. They would be looked after. But the white-collar-bhadroloks of BJP-Delhi does not seem to have the slightest clue about the street politics of Bengal. Perhaps if they are too concerned about the optics and are unable to protect their own workers, they should just tell their workers to protect themselves, in so many words. Self-defence, after all, is a divine right. Self-defense is as much a state of mind as it is about the weapons used and techniques employed. Let the BJP workers think that they are worth defending. And the process starts with the Delhi-white-collar politicians making way for local leaders who know how street politics works in Bengal. What it takes to defend their workers. It is time to make way for someone like Suvendu Adhikari and give him the power to do as he deems fit.
It is time to stand up straight. It is time to be heard. It is time to fulfil the Dharma BJP was elected for. The BJP needs to realise that apathy is the self-defence of the powerless, and they are now powerless enough to be nonchalant. The BJP faces an identity crisis similar to that of Congress in 2011. It is time to be counted for those who stood by them and trusted them, without worrying about those who will burn this nation to see them gone.