Rajat Sharma

Birbhum: Mamata must find out the cause of rivalry that resulted in carnage

akbEven as the Calcutta High Court on Thursday reserved its order on multiple petitions seeking a court-monitored CBI prove into the horrific Birbhum carnage, the West Bengal Police, on orders of chief minister Mamata Banerjee, arrested Anarul Hossain, a Trinamool block level president, hiding in Tarapeeth. The arrest took place minutes after the chief minister directed the Director General of Police Manoj Malaviya that Hossain “must either surrender or he should be hunted down”.

Three days after the carnage, the chief minister visited Bogtui village, where eight people were charred to death by an armed mob on March 21. Mamta’s visit had two fallouts: one, the main accused was arrested by police within hours by tracing his cellphone network, two, family members of the victims had a chance to speak to the chief minister openly. The local police had turned a deaf ear to their pleas for the last three days.

The family members told Mamata Banerjee how Anarul Hossain was leading the violent mob that set fire to a row of houses in the village. The chief minister, on the spot directed the DGP to arrest the main accused immediately, and within two hours, reports came about Anarul Hossain’s arrest in Tarapeeth, nine kilometres away.

After speaking to the victims, Mamata Banerjee admitted that there were serious lapses on part of police otherwise the carnage could have been prevented. She lashed out at local police officials, and ordered the suspension of local officer-in-charge of police station and subdivisional police officer for lapse in duty. Mamata Banerjee admitted that the eight innocent lives could have been saved had police taken timely action. The victims told her they had complained to local police several times in the past about the main accused and his supporters threatening and intimidating them, but police did not act.

How was the main accused Anarul Hossain arrested within two hours of the chief minister issuing verbal orders? Was the police awaiting her orders? The fact is, in West Bengal, arrest of Trinamool Congress leaders by police is not an easy task. The accused was the block president and it was not easy for local police to arrest him. In the last two days, police had rounded up 11 persons, but the main accused was moving around freely. It was only when the CM ordered that the police swung into action and arrested him.

One other point to note is that while the family members of victims were naming Anarul Hossain as the leader of the mob, the chief minister was saying that this could be the handiwork of outside forces. Mamata Banerjee said, “some people are saying that some hoodlums from outside had come to the village, otherwise this incident would not have happened. Police should set up pickets to prevent outsiders from coming. We are ready to take the seriously burnt people for treatment to Kolkata, or if the doctors do not allow, we can send experts here for their treatment.”

Mamata Banerjee directed local administration to give Rs one lakh immediate ex gratia relief to the affected family members, and provide them with more assistance for rebuilding their burnt homes. “I promise we will punish the killers and it will set an example for others. There can be no compensation for a life lost, giving a job is not an alternative to a life lost. Yet I will ensure that the family members get Rs 5 lakh assistance and I will give jobs to 10 persons from my own quota”, she said.

The chief minister did the right thing in visiting the spot and meeting the affected family members. She was also right in publicly admitting that there were serious lapses on part of police. But I was surprised to find visuals of how the local Trinamool Congress unit had set up welcome arches, and displayed posters and banners welcoming the chief minister, as if it was a joyful occasion. These local leaders should realize that their supreme leader was going to the village and express her condolence and sympathy to the bereaved families, whose near and dear ones were charred to death.

There are two main challenges now before Mamata Banerjee. One, the killers and the victims, both belong to Muslim community. Two, she has a pro-active Governor in her state, who will never allow to sit in peace. Already, the main opposition party BJP has raised this carnage issue at several levels. Mamata Banerjee cannot wash off her hands by saying that similar incidents “frequently” take place in other states. She needs to go into the bottom of this entire episode.

What I understand from my sources is that, this was not a rivalry based on religion or community or politics. The rivalry was on the issue of distribution of ill-gotten money. The crime that took place because of this was horrendous, unprecedented in Bengal’s history. The visuals of the carnage are disturbing and it will take a long time for people to forget them.

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