Explained: Why Mamata Banerjee Dislikes The BSF

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Jan 28, 2021 10:00 AM
Explained: Why Mamata Banerjee Dislikes The BSFWest Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. (Arun Sharma/Hindustan Times via GettyImages)
Snapshot
  • By not backing her allegations with specific instances and evidence, Mamata Banerjee has only laid herself open to charges that she wants the BSF to turn a blind eye to trans-border crimes.

The Border Security Force (BSF), which guards a 2,217-kilometre stretch of the India-Bangladesh border that falls in Bengal, has become a thorn in Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s flesh.

Banerjee has, for quite some time now, been accusing the BSF of “harassing local people” and “entering villages” in the areas along the international border in the name of hunting down smugglers and criminals.

Last week, the Trinamool levelled an allegation against the border force: that it was asking people to vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the forthcoming assembly elections in the state.

A Trinamool delegation led by its secretary general Partha Chatterjee complained to the full bench of the Election Commission of India (ECI) that the BSF was coercing residents of the border areas to vote for the BJP.

“We have informed the CEC and other ECI officials that the BSF is threatening voters in border areas. We have received inputs that officers of the paramilitary force are visiting various villages and asking people to cast their votes in favour of a particular political party. This is a dangerous situation and the ECI must look into it,” Chatterjee told the media after the meeting with the ECI.

Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora snubbed the Trinamool and termed the allegations “unfortunate”. “It is unfortunate that a party made averments about the BSF. I’ve asked for concrete instances. The BSF is one of the finest forces in the country. There is no point in castigating any force, ad nauseam,” Arora told the media in Kolkata.

The BSF reacted sharply to the allegations and termed them “baseless”. “The BSF is a professional border guarding force which has in the past, and also in the present, guarded our international borders with total sincerity and dedication,” the BSF said in a statement.

“We have actively checked illegal infiltration and smuggling and brought to book criminals involved in such activities. The statements made by West Bengal ministers Partha Chatterjee and Firad Hakim levelling allegations against the BSF are without any basis and far from any truth,” the BSF said.

That was not the first time that the Trinamool leadership tried to malign the BSF. Mamata Banerjee had, many times in the past, accused the BSF of harassing people living in the border areas in the guise of preventing smuggling and other illegal activities.

Last year, Banerjee warned the BSF against entering local villages “in the name of community development” and “interfering in local issues”.

The BSF has operational jurisdiction over a 15-km band along the international border. It can patrol all such areas freely, detain and interrogate anyone living in or visiting the areas under its jurisdiction and also investigate and take steps to prevent trans-border crimes.

The BSF also undertakes community development programmes in the villages along the border in order to improve relations with the locals and establish local contacts. Such contacts help the force in preventing trans-border crimes or catch criminals involved in such crimes.

It is this — the BSF’s proactiveness in preventing infiltration and smuggling that is resented by criminals and smugglers who allegedly enjoy the patronage of local politicians.

BSF officers say that without the patronage of ruling politicians, these criminals involved in human and drug trafficking, cattle smuggling and other illegal activities will not be able to survive.

“The complaint made by the Trinamool to the ECI and its frequent charges against the BSF are proof that the BSF is functioning properly as per its mandate. The Trinamool is perturbed and wants the BSF’s powers curbed,” said BJP state president Dilip Ghosh.

The criminal gangs do not want the BSF to develop local contacts since it then becomes easier for the BSF to keep tabs on their activities and nab them.

That is why, say BSF officers, the Trinamool does not want the BSF to interact closely with locals.

“Keeping the BSF away from residents of villages along the border will allow criminals to carry on their activities unfettered. That explains why some politicians are so keen on not allowing the BSF to develop local contacts that are necessary for intelligence-gathering,” said a DIG-ranked BSF officer at the South Bengal Frontier HQs of the force.

He explained that cattle smuggling, drug and human trafficking, smuggling in fake Indian currency and other trans-border crimes yield hundreds of crores of rupees.

It is no secret that ruling politicians get a large slice of the proceeds of transborder crimes. And, naturally, they would not want the BSF to prevent such crimes.

Mamata Banerjee has complained to the Union Home Ministry (which controls the BSF) many times in the past about the BSF “overstepping its jurisdiction”. She has also complained to Union Home Minister Amit Shah about the BSF.

Top officials at the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) told Swarajya that the Bengal Chief Minister had been requested to provide concrete instances in support of her allegations that the BSF was overstepping its jurisdiction.

“But she has never bothered to provide any details. Hence, we have not been able to act on her allegations,” said an officer.

By not backing her allegations with specific instances and evidence, Mamata Banerjee has only laid herself open to charges that she wants the BSF to turn a blind eye to human and drug trafficking, smuggling in fake currency and smuggling out cattle, and other criminal activities.

And on the eve of elections, say BSF officers, the support of the powerful crime lords who can finance local politicians and also muster a huge number of votes for them becomes critical.

That’s why, say BSF officers, there is a renewed Trinamool offensive against the border force.

Also read:

A New Trouble For BSF On India-Bangladesh Frontier: Demographic Change In Bengal’s Border Districts Has Led To Spurt In Trans-Border Crimes

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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