Next Monday (16 August) will be celebrated as Khela Hobe Diwas by the Trinamool Congress in Bengal. Khela hobe was the Trinamool’s poll war cry and was also chanted by the party’s goons while launching attacks on Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers after the polls.
But why 16 August? It was a dark day for Bengal. Mohammad Ali Jinnah chose 16 August 1946 as his ‘Direct Action Day’ to force the Congress to agree to the partition of India and creation of Pakistan.
The Events Of 16 August 1946
Jinnah’s call for ‘Direct Action Day’ was followed in Calcutta (as Kolkata was known at that time) by a horrific pogrom launched by the Muslim League to ‘cleanse’ the city of Hindus. The then chief minister of Bengal, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, orchestrated coordinated attacks on Calcutta's Hindu population by Muslim mobs.
The pre-planned attack on Hindus started after an incendiary speech delivered by Suhrawardy at the base of what is now called the ‘Shahid Minar’ in the Esplanade area of the city.
Suhrawardy delivered a fiery speech calling for the creation of Pakistan and urging Muslims to fight for it. He gave the slogans: “Maar ke lenge Pakistan, lad ke lenge Pakistan, le kar rahenge Pakistan, Allahu Akbar, nara-e-takbir”. (We will kill and fight to create Pakistan, we are determined to create Pakistan.)
Suhrawardy, according to reports filed by British intelligence operatives after the 16 August rally, told the large and agitated crowd that he had ensured the police and army would not intervene. That was seen as an open call and encouragement to the goons to attack Hindus.
Ferocious mobs baying for the blood of Hindus streamed out of the rally and started attacking Hindu homes and properties. Hundreds of Hindus in Hindu-majority areas like College Street, Kalabagan, Harrison Road, Colootolla and Barabazar were massacred.
Suhrawardy, along with his associates, went to the Calcutta Police headquarters at Lalbazar and restrained the police from venturing into areas where Muslims were attacking Hindus. He ensured that the police were deployed only in areas where Hindus were putting up a resistance and fighting back.
That Suhrawardy had planned a long time ago was evident from the fact that he started making demographic changes in the Calcutta Police constabulary. History buff, chronicler and senior BJP leader Tathagata Roy who authored many books on persecution of Bengali Hindus, writes in his book My People, Uprooted: A Saga Of Hindus Of Eastern Bengal that Suhrawardy started recruiting Punjabi Muslims and Pathans into the Calcutta Police constabulary and junior policemen from Bihar and Eastern United Provinces were sidelined.
There are numerous accounts of British police and intelligence officers who reported that special coupons for gallons of petrol were issued in the names of Muslim League ministers, and this petrol was used to make petrol bombs by Muslim League goons. One month’s food ration was withdrawn and stocked to feed 10,000 Muslim League musclemen and goons. These accounts have been documented in articles like these.
Bangladeshi historian Harun-or-Rashid, in his book The Foreshadowing of Bangladesh: Bengal Muslim League & Muslim Politics: 1906-1947, also alludes to the diabolic role of Suhrawardy in engineering riots against the Hindus in a pre-planned manner and shielding the Muslim marauders from the police.
The pogrom in Calcutta left 5,000 Hindus dead, tens of thousands injured and maimed and 1.2 lakh Hindus were rendered homeless. Hundreds of Hindu women were raped and abducted, many were forcibly converted to Islam.
The killings of Hindus stopped only after some Bengali Hindus and Hindi-speaking Hindus got themselves organised and started retaliating fiercely against the Muslims. One of the heroes of that retaliation was Gopal Mukherjee (read this).
The Motive Behind The Pogrom
United Bengal (East and West Bengal) was then a Muslim-majority province with only 42 per cent Hindus, but Calcutta had 64 per cent Hindus and 33 per cent Muslims. Bengal was the only province in British India where a Muslim League government was in power.
Jinnah’s call for the creation of Pakistan found an ardent advocate in Suhrawardy, who wanted the entire Bengal and Assam to become part of Pakistan. He was desperate to include Hindu-majority Calcutta and some of its Hindu-majority neighbouring districts into Pakistan.
Calcutta was, even then, the first city of British India and would have been a prized pick for the proposed Pakistan nation. But since Hindus were in a majority in the city and its neighbouring districts, they would, Suhrawardy felt, have to be reduced to a minority through killings and large-scale riots and then beaten into submission.
Hence, Suhrawardy launched the pogrom to reduce Hindus to a minority in Calcutta. Had he succeeded, the city and its eastern and northern hinterlands would have gone to East Pakistan.
Faced with flak from the BJP, the Trinamool turned the pages of history and discovered that on 16 August 1980, 16 football fans died in a stampede in the Eden Gardens stadium in Kolkata after a match between the East Bengal and Mohun Bagan football clubs triggered a fierce brawl between the supporters of the two teams inside the stadium.
Mamata Banerjee then said that 16 August is observed as football lover’s day and her Khela Hobe Diwas will be a tribute to all sports lovers.
Banerjee will distribute one lakh footballs to 25,000 clubs across the state and will also give them doles of Rs 5 lakh each.
Banerjee dismissed the BJP’s charges and accused the saffron party of trying to “find other meanings” to Khela Hobe Diwas.
Why The Trinamool’s Defence Rings Hollow
However, few are convinced by Banerjee’s defence and her contention that the BJP is trying to misrepresent the symbolism of Khela Hobe Diwas.
Because the horrific events of 16 August 1946 easily overshadow the accidental deaths of 16 football fans on the same day 34 years later.
So, to overlook the deaths of thousands in the city on 16 August 1946 and remember only 16 deaths the same day 34 years later is a pathetic attempt to whitewash the 1946 pogrom against Hindus.
It is, for instance, akin to neo-Nazis in Brazil deciding to celebrate 27 January, the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, as a ‘Let’s Party At Nightclub’ Day to mark the deaths of 250 in a fire in a nightclub at Santa Maria in Rio Grande do Sul on 27 January 2013.
In the first place, to ‘celebrate’ a dark day for Bengal (16 August 1946) which marked the beginning of a sinister project to cleanse Calcutta of Hindus as something else is, at the very least, highly insensitive.
And even if Banerjee’s defence is to be taken at face value, that too would paint the Trinamool chief as quite obtuse.
A day when 16 football fans died should be observed (not celebrated) with solemnity and sadness. Celebrating the day as Khela Hobe Diwas is, to say the very least, crass and callous.
The Sinister Signal
But it is widely suspected in many quarters that 16 August was chosen very deliberately and diabolically as Khela Hobe Diwas.
One, the khela hobe war cry was meant to serve as an ominous threat to BJP workers and supporters. More so since it was always delivered in very menacing tones and was accompanied by terrorising gestures (read this).
In many election rallies, Banerjee had herself openly called on her workers and supporters to beat back the BJP with rolling pins, pestels, sticks, etc, while mouthing the khela hobe war cry.
Thus, khela hobe is not nearly as innocuous as the Trinamool makes it out to be. And Khela Hobe Diwas can, by no stretch of imagination, be termed as a commemoration of the deaths of 16 football fans 41 years ago.
Also, the khela hobe term was actually coined by controversial Bangladeshi politician Shamim Osman. Osman is an Awami League parliamentarian.
Osman and his brother Salim (also an MP) are known to be very communal and have been accused of orchestrating many attacks on Hindus of Bangladesh. They have many criminal cases pending against them.
The Trinamool’s use of this khela hobe slogan coined by a Bangladeshi politician with pronounced Islamist and anti-Hindu leanings is in itself very significant.
Many feel that by deliberately choosing a day that marked the beginning of what is called the ‘Great Calcutta Killings’ (read this eye-witness account), Banerjee is attempting to send a not-so-subtle message to Hindus of Bengal.
In the recently-held assembly polls, a majority of the Hindus of Bengal voted for the BJP. The Trinamool bagged 47.9 per cent of the votes polled — or more than 2.87 crore of the 5.99 crore votes that were cast went to the Trinamool.
Bengal’s total electorate numbers more than 7.32 crore. Muslims form about 30 per cent (or nearly 2.2 crore). More than 81.7 per cent of the electorate exercised their franchise and among Muslims, the polling percentage is estimated to be over 93 per cent. Thus, about 2.04 crore Muslims voted in the assembly polls held a few months ago.
Almost all Muslims, save for some pockets in Malda and Murshidabad, voted for the Trinamool. It is estimated that of the 2.87 crore votes that were cast in the Trinamool’s favour, Muslim votes numbered more than 1.99 crore.
Thus, 70 per cent of the votes that were bagged by the Trinamool were Muslim votes while Hindu votes accounted for less than 30 per cent of its kitty. In absolute numbers, just about 86 lakh Hindus voted for the Trinamool.
The BJP polled more than 2.28 crore votes (38.13 per cent) and almost all of that were votes cast by Hindus. Thus, 62 per cent of the Hindus who exercised their franchise voted for the BJP while under 38 per cent voted for the Trinamool.
This was in line with the Trinamool’s poll strategy of bagging a majority of the minority (Muslim) votes and a minority of the majority (Hindu) votes.
But the lack of support by a majority of the state’s majority community would not have gone down very well with the Trinamool.
Given this, was 16 August — a day of sorrow for Bengali Hindus — chosen for ‘celebrating’ Khela Hobe Diwas very deliberately in a bid to insult the tragic memories of the 'Great Calcutta Killings' and to deliver a sinister message to Bengal’s Hindus? Many in the state think so.
After all, choosing Holocaust Remembrance Day to ‘celebrate’ something else would be a deliberate insult to Jews and an attempt to whitewash the horrors of the Holocaust.
Similarly, choosing 16 August as Khela Hobe Diwas is a deliberate insult to Bengali Hindus by the Trinamool and an attempt to whitewash the crimes of the ‘butcher of Bengal’ — Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy — and of the Muslim League.
An appeal from Swarajya
At Swarajya, we rely on our readers' support through subscriptions to sustain our media platform. Unlike larger conglomerates, we are unable to relentlessly chase advertising money — our model is largely built on your patronage.
Your support has never been more crucial. We work tirelessly to deliver 10-15 high-quality articles daily, ensuring you receive insightful content from 7 AM to 10 PM.
If you believe India's story has to be articulated in a way it has never been done before without shrugging it off, become a patron (or) subscribe now for ₹̶2̶4̶0̶0̶ ₹1999 and get 12 print issues, unlimited digital access for 1 year, a special India that is Bharat T-shirt (Offer ends soon).
We are counting on you!