The firing by the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) jawans on a riotous mob that attacked them, tried to snatch their weapons and then storm a polling booth at Sitalkuchi in North Bengal’s Cooch Behar district has generated a lot of heat and a war of words between the BJP and the Trinamool.
The incident has also triggered intemperate and even distasteful comments from some state-level BJP leaders who appear to be ‘celebrating’ the firing which led to four deaths.
Former BJP state president and the party’s candidate from Habra, Rahul Sinha, had said at an election rally in his constituency a few days ago: “Not four, eight people should have been shot dead in Sitalkuchi. The Central forces should be issued a show-cause notice asking why they killed only four and not eight. Goons are trying to deprive people of their democratic rights. Central forces responded appropriately. If it happens again, they will answer again in a similar way”.
The Election Commission on Tuesday (April 13) held Sinha guilty of violating the Indian Penal Code, the model code of conduct and the Representation of Peoples Act and slapped a 48-hour campaign ban on him.
The EC also found Sinha’s statement “highly provocative, mocking human life, and inciting forces that could have serious law and order implications”. Also, the EC imposed the ban without giving Sinha a chance to defend himself in view of the “urgency involved”.
However, the sharp rap on his knuckles by the EC failed to deter Sinha who, as soon as the ban ended, at an election rally at Habra on Thursday (April 15) that “security forces should open fire if they come under attack, no matter who dies or survives”.
The Trinamool has complained to the EC against Sinha once again.
The EC on Thursday also on state BJP president Dilip Ghosh on Thursday (April 15) for his comments on the Sitalkuchi incident.
A day after the firing, Ghosh had said at a public meeting: “Where do so many naughty boys come from? Those naughty boys were shot dead yesterday at Sitalkuchi. These naughty boys will not be there in Bengal soon. This is just the beginning. Those who thought that the central forces’ rifles were meant to be just for show have understood by now what rifles are for. There will be Sitalkuchi at several places, so be careful”.
The EC found Ghosh’s statement “highly provocative and insightful” that could affect law and order and the conduct of elections.
The EC has also served a on BJP state general secretary Sayantan Basu on Thursday for his distasteful remarks on the Sitalkuchi incident.
Basu had reportedly said at a meeting at Baranagar in northwest Kolkata: “We will play the game of Sitalkuchi. They killed 18-year-old Ananda Barman. We did not have to wait long. Four of them were shown their way to heaven. There was a dialogue in the film ‘Sholay’: ‘If you kill one, we will kill four’. Sitalkuchi witnessed it. If you kill one of us, we will kill four of you”.
The EC has given Basu 24 hours to reply to the notice. Basu may be staring at a ban on campaigning as well.
The utterances of these BJP leaders were totally unnecessary, distasteful and rightly deemed by the EC as provocative and violative of several laws.
And what is more, they have inflicted considerable damage on the party’s image among the educated middle classes.
“The urban educated Bengali middle class bhadralok will find such statements cringeworthy. At a time when the BJP is trying its best to gain acceptance among this class, such repugnant statements can defeat the party’s purpose,” said a senior state BJP leader who has voiced his reservations about these statements in some party forums over the past two days.
The statements have also come at an inopportune time when polling for many crucial constituencies in and around Kolkata which is populated by the educated middle classes is approaching.
Also, the obnoxious utterances of these BJP leaders has taken the sting out of the EC action against Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee.
The EC had imposed a 24-hour campaign ban on her earlier this week for appealing to Muslims to vote unitedly and for instigating people against central forces on poll duty.
The BJP could have played up the EC action on Banerjee in its campaigns and portrayed her as a person who has scant respect for the law.
“The EC’s campaign ban on Mamata Banerjee was a wonderful opportunity to tell the people of Bengal that she (Banerjee) had broken the law and that’s why the EC took action against her. We could have portrayed her in a very poor light. Instead we frittered away the opportunity by scoring some self-goals,” the BJP leader rued.
As polling enters the home stretch now, it is time the party’s central leadership and its Bengal minders tell state party leaders in unequivocal terms that they should be discreet in their utterances and conduct.
The BJP can ill afford to have rabble rousers mar its electoral prospects now. The party should impose a strict gag order on any reference to the Sitalkuchi incident by its state leaders and candidates. And also warn them that distasteful utterances will not be taken kindly.
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