Calcutta Notebook


What West Bengal has been witnessing for the last few years is the employment by local or regional political leaders of armed hooligans in achieving their targets on a scale unheard of before. These hooligans are often professional killers serving the instructions of their masters in exchange of large sums of money. Sometimes groups of local thugs are collected and provided with arms and money. Their political employers’ ambition is to acquire control of the resources of the area as to eliminate political opposition.

One recent glaring example of such increasing criminalization of the polity is the murder of a block-level TMC leader Ashok Mukherjee in the district of Birbhum. About one year ago another TMC leader of similar stature, Ashok Ghosh, was murdered and in this case Mr Mukherjee was the prime accused. Both the murders were however committed by unknown faces. This correspondent, however, lives in the same district and sources considered reliable by him have reported that the main issue was the acquisition of money from illegal coal business the region is famous for.

Almost about the same time, Bhaskar Majumdar, a person known for many years to this correspondent, was killed by a gang for the suspicion that someone belonging to the CPI(M) group in the Loba panchayet area of Birbhum had taken shelter in his house. Here too the main issue was control of the potential coal resources of the area.

The martyrdom of Tapan Datta, a TMC activist who was trying to protect the natural tanks from the greed of promoters was killed by assailants with unknown faces in 2011 and the charge is that the assailants were employed by a minister of the present cabinet of West Bengal. Be that as it may it is clear that professional murderers, alternatively called supari-killers have entered into the political field in a significant way. The inaction and apathy of the police force, coupled with the absence of a mass movement, has certainly helped such criminals in a major way.

Political murders are on the rise, increasing steadily. After all figures are not for fun! For 2013, West Bengal has recorded the highest number of political murders, in India. There were 26 political murders in the state during 2013, which exceed 25% of the 101 cases in the entire country. Madhya Pradesh with 22 murders is at the second position. Bihar with 12 political murders occupies the third position. West Bengal’s society is highly politicalised, and political conflict is increasing. The state has a long history of violence between the political party in power, and the main opposition party. The situation has become critical with the rising intra-party violence, within the Trinamool Congress Party. Workers of the ruling TMC are allegedly attacking supporters of the CPI(M) and BJP. The emergence of the BJP as an opposition force has added to the prevailing violence in the state. On 14 August 2014, there were horrific killings, all part of Trinamul intra-party clash, in Tentulia village in Bamunpara panchayat of Bardhaman district. Two TMC supporters were dragged out of a passenger trekker vehicle, and hacked to death. Soon after the incident, two of the alleged assailants were lynched by a vengeful mob of local residents.

It may be a bit worthwhile to recall the great Calcutta killings of 1946. Inspired by the call of ‘direct action’ and spurred on by the most communal Muslim leaders, militants and criminals owing allegiance to the Muslim League killed Hindus indiscriminately in Muslim-majority areas. In quite a few cases, however, well-meaning Muslims tried to save their Hindu friends and neighbours. For example, the Imam of a masjid in the Park Circus area saved the life of the grand daughter of Keshab Chandra Sen, the famous Hindu religious reformer, by his timely intervention.

The very next day Hindu militants arrived the scene on a much larger scale, killing innocent Muslims indiscriminately by way of revenge. One Gopal Mukherjee, also known as Gopal Pantha—his occupation was to sell goat-meat—was the foremost actor in this killing spree. What is noteworthy is that subsequently, Gopal Mukherjee was seen as an active associate of a famous political leader, particularly during his election campaigns. To the middle-class Bengali Hindu population this leader is known as the ‘architect of modern Bengal’; possibly the task of rebuilding Bengal started with the division of Bengal, and the Bengali nationality along religious lines.

The entry of criminals into politics in the 1950’s has now spread far beyond West Bengal’s capital. It is now an ubiquitous phenomenon, and the reasons are political as well as socio-economic. What is urgently needed is an alternative socio-economic as also political programme to curb it.

Vol. 47, No. 10, Sep 14 - 20, 2014