In West Bengal, more they change, more they remain same

In West Bengal, more they change, more they remain same

On November 5, Trinamool Congress chairperson Mamata Banerjee, while addressing an organisational meeting, severely rebuked party’s Birbhum district president Anubrata Mondal for the recent spate of violent clashes that has marred normal life in the district since the last week of October.

Mamata, however, did not admonish Mondal — the district leader has been in news the last couple of years more for his hate speeches against opposition party workers and the police — for his failure to contain violence but because he failed to prevent the march forward of the BJP as the prime opposition force in Birbhum, as in other parts of Bengal.

The West Bengal chief minister, did not admonish Mondal — the district leader has been in news the last couple of years for his hate speeches against opposition party workers and the police.  He was reprimanded not his failure to contain violence but because he failed to prevent the march forward of BJP as the prime opposition force in Birbhum, as in other parts of Bengal.

The clashes between Trinamool and BJP workers at different parts of the district, which started in the run up to the Lok Sabha polls, intensified in phases, the latest being in October, which claimed the lives of three persons, two from the BJP and one, Trinamool. The story, however, is a bigger one - that of a significant exodus from the Trinamool to BJP, which includes even local Muslims.

The fallout of the recent violence at Parui, Makhra, Chowmandalpur and adjoining villages has been the political migration of Muslims from Trinamool to BJP.

Even though the Trinamool leadership has dismissed suggestions that there has been any lateral movement, villages where the clashes took place reveal a window to this shift. According to the Trinamool leadership, this is just the movement by a “disgruntled section” of Trinamool-supporting Muslims.

Ground level sources point out that in several gram panchayats spread over the three assembly segments of Sainthia, Rampurhat and Bolpur in the district, Muslims have switched sides to the BJP in the last few months.

In these three assembly segments, Muslims constitute around 60 per cent of the population. Local villagers have been heard complaining that from being a counter to CPM’s corrupt and violent ways, the Trinamool has become the very same entity it once fought.

The genesis of the crisis can be traced back to the heydays of the Left, when CPM ruled the roost. In those days, while Birbhum was a CPM bastion, Left Front partners, RSP and Forward Bloc also had considerable sway. Trouble began when ‘big brother’ CPM got greedy and started annexing even areas that belonged to its partners. Despite repeated complaints to their respective party high commands, ground level cadres of RSP and Forward Bloc found no respite from regular attacks and embarrassment at the hands of their CPM comrades. This led to the beginning of an exodus.

Shift in power

Before the 2008 panchayat elections in Bengal, a major shift in power was noticed as supporters of RSP, Forward Bloc and even disgruntled elements of the CPM joined the ranks of Trinamool. They gave a good beating to their erstwhile comrades in the Left and snatched power away, paving the path for Trinamool to sweep the polls and come to power. The pattern was not confined to Birbhum alone.

In the next three years, till Trinamool came to power in the state, they settled down in their new role as masters. In 2011, Mamata made history by ousting the Left and singing paeans to poriborton, the change; “Not through bullets but through ballot” was her slogan. The promise of change was short-lived; for most people, it meant a new wave of prosperity but for Bengal it really meant change in faces of power.

After taking over power, Trinamool started consolidating its forces and violence — it was envisioned there would be severe bloodshed — was contained for some time. What Mamata probably had not counted on is the tension brewing at home. The violence that burst out on the streets was not against opposition parties but Trinamool factions fighting amongst each other.

During the Left regime, ‘us’ and ‘them’ meant those in power and those fighting to straighten things. In Mamata’s Bengal, the divide began to mean those Trinamool supporters who have been there from the beginning and those who changed ship later on, fearing retribution after change of power. Trinamool factions fought each other on the streets of Kolkata, on green fields and on dry, arid patches of land across rural Bengal. This violence also touched Birbhum, where it translated into clashes that answered to an age-old rivalry.

The district saw internecine fights that soon took the shape of deep-set anger as the Trinamool’s old guard, who had faced the baton, the sword and the gun when the Left was in power, took up arms against those who had joined its ranks right before the 2008 panchayat elections. Soon, ‘old’ Trinamool and ‘new’ Trinamool - mostly people from RSP and Forward Bloc - started colliding with each other.

Somewhat cornered and concerned with their fate, large number of ‘new’ Trinamool supporters decided to switch over to the BJP, with the saffron party.

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