Wednesday 26 July 2017 News Updated at 12:07 PM IST
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Darjeeling unrest. PTI file photo.
Battle for supremacy
I have seen Bengal’s face, that is why I do not seek beauty of the earth any more
- Jibanananda Das (1899-1954)


The famous Bengali poet Jibanananda Das, who died at the age of 55, may not repeat what he wrote if he is to pen it again now. The Bengal, which he immortalised through unparalleled lyricism, many feel, has changed. Now, the hills of Darjeeling are on fire and so is the plains in North 24 Parganas.

While one wants a separate state, communal harmony is in tatters in the other. The blame game, as usual, is on while the divide is deepening rapidly with news, both fake and slanted, travelling fast. The battle of attrition between parties - on both sides - for political control in the state, is on. And, when a winner emerges, the divide in the minds would have been complete. Now, Das, if he was alive, will have had to obviously seek the beauty of the earth because the face of Bengal has changed drastically.
The first trouble in the latest episode started in Darjeeling where Gorkhaland supporters renewed their agitation for a separate hill-state. The trigger was an announcement in mid-May that Bengali will be made compulsory in the school curriculum in Darjeeling where Nepali is the main language.

They feared it is going to be a Bengali infusion into their distinct culture and hit the streets by the end of May. The government reassured that there was no compulsion on it but the Gorkhas under the aegis of Bimal Gurung-led Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) were not impressed. The fight for a separate state, which has been simmering for around 30 years, got a further fillip.

They have their own grievances as they feel the tripartite agreement reached in 2011 have not been fulfilled. The political parties have given their assurances but the GJM feels that they are not being honoured. The parties, leaders and the government need to address the concerns and convince the protesters about whatever decision they take.

The ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) accuses the BJP of fuelling the unrest in the hills while the latter points the finger at Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for not doing enough to douse the situation. What is needed, according to the CPM, at this juncture, is a tripartite meeting of the Centre, state and the leaders of the movement to restore peace and normalcy in the region.

While Darjeeling was calm for some time, an "objectionable” Facebook post by a teenager triggered communal riots in Baduria and Basirhat in North 24 Parganas district. Fake news on social media spread by the Right-wing added more fire.



Pitting one community against another was said to be the handiwork of the politicians on the ground for gaining supremacy in the area. The truth may not be known immediately but it has the potential for creating bad blood between communities. But the silver lining is the stories about members of both communities trying to help each other during riots. Darjeeling and North 24 Parganas incidents also exposed the fault lines between the TMC-led state and the BJP-led central governments. Each accused the other of one-upmanship. There were arguments over the deployment of paramilitary forces. While the state delayed sending a report sought by the Centre, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) put on hold deployment of additional paramilitary forces till they received it. Questions and counter questions were raised. Leaders visiting the troubled spots were stopped by the state administration from reaching there.

The political scene in Bengal is also in a big churn. While the BJP, which dreams of emerging as a prominent force in Bengal, is accused of polarising the state on communal lines by extending support to trouble makers, the TMC is battling the image of being too close to the minorities. The BJP has some electoral gains in the recent times but its opponents say one need not give much credence to it.

The TMC leaders say the minority appeasement charge is thrust upon them but accepts that they need to pro-actively challenge the characterisation. The Congress and the CPM-led Left are on the scene but are not as strong as they used to be. The Left alleges that the TMC is not targeting the BJP as it ought to be as it wants the neutralisation of the Left and others.

At the same time, the BJP leaders harp on the deteriorating law and order in the state and loudly think of imposition of central rule. The game for political supremacy can lead to further tension. This simmering tension can have serious implications for Bengal.

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