Another week and another report emerging from the state of West Bengal about a woman being gang-raped as an act of political vengeance. Earlier this week, a worker of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Howrah district lodged a complaint against the local leaders of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) who are alleged to have raped his mute wife.
As per some reports, the local police, at first, resisted filing a complaint. However, as the matter became public, the police managed to arrest two of the five culprits, with a manhunt on for the remaining accused. This was followed by the government in the state demanding strict punishment for the culprits.
If one is to factor in the prevailing political ground realities in West Bengal, the unfortunate deduction is that this will not be the last time any BJP supporter or worker is hounded, harassed, raped, or butchered for voting or supporting the BJP.
The months leading to the assembly elections in April-May 2021 were plagued with violence against the members of the RSS and the BJP, with reports of murders and rapes surfacing each week.
However, the post-poll violence on 2 May and beyond serves as a testament to the continuous violence in the state against the supporters of the BJP.
While most mainstream media outlets chose to maintain a convenient silence or refused to acknowledge the violence on the ground, the final report of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) submitted to the Calcutta High Court slammed the Mamata Banerjee government for its handling of the post-poll violence after the election results.
In their findings, the Enquiry Committee (EC) mandated by the NHRC concluded that the situation in Bengal was a manifestation of "Law of Ruler", instead of "Rule of Law".
The report notes that the violence was retributive, a state-backed vengeful action of the supporters of the ruling party against that of the BJP, now the main opposition party in the state. The violence resulted in disruption of life and livelihood of thousands of people and resulted in economic losses.
The report also mentions that the local police was grossly incompetent, if not complicit, in this violence. The report notes palpable fear amongst the victims against the police and goons of the ruling party. Victims of sexual offences were afraid to speak, fearing backlash from the government, resulting in loss of faith in the state administration.
The report also notes a nexus between the political forces, bureaucratic corridors, and criminal cartels.
The EC, along with its teams, conducted more than 300 visits in less than three weeks with negligible assistance from the state government and its authorities, given the investigation was against the latter.
The report quantifies and details the complaints received from various sources. The NHRC received over 1,650 complaints that covered more than 5,000 victims. West Bengal State Legal Services Authority received more than 315 complaints, totalling more than 9,900 victims.
Fifty-seven complaints were received by the NHRC from the National Commission for Women, and the EC also received complaints related to murders, rapes, molestation, and looting from local sources during their visits.
In totality, the EC received close to 2,000 complaints with over 15,000 victims, and these were the complaints that were made.
As per the report, 322 complaints came from Cooch Behar, 314 came from Birbhum, 196 from North 24-Parganas, 172 from Kolkata, 203 from South 24 Parganas, 113 from Purba Bardhman, and 90 from Nadia.
Of the total 1,934 complaints received across the state, FIR was only registered for 1,168, and of the 9,304 named in the FIRs, only 1,345 were arrested, with 1,086 already given bail, resulting in only 2.88 per cent of the accused being arrested. About 97 per cent of the accused roam around free, untouched.
The first step in addressing this problem of violence against Hindus and voters of the BJP is to stop normalising it as routine political violence.
Post the election results, many observers and political stakeholders were quick to dismiss the harassment and rapes as tools of political violence, often witnessed after every election result.
However, as the NHRC report noted, this was more an instance of targeted violence against the biggest opposition party in the state and not a random spree of mindless street rioting.
Political rivalries are not unique to West Bengal. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, for decades, have witnessed parties in a state of eternal conflict.
In Punjab, the SAD-Congress rivalry has only intensified with time. Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and almost all other states in India have been audiences to political factions going all out to defeat their opponent, but the events of Bengal are farther to the post-poll events in all Indian states.
If anything, West Bengal is drawing similarities to Jammu and Kashmir when it comes to targeted political violence. The observations and recommendations of the EC under the NHRC further confirm this.
In its macro viewpoint, the EC notes that the post-poll events were, in fact, organised violence by supporters of the ruling party against the supporters of the BJP where some organs of the state government were actually aiding the violence, while some chose to remain mute spectators.
Specific people were targeted based on their political affiliations, and instances of heads being tonsured and public apologies being ordered were observed.
In its recommendations, the EC has asked for a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) investigation, for trials to be outside the state, for a court-monitored special investigation team (SIT) to register cases and investigate all complaints, for SIT investigation to be monitored by the court, for cases to be fast-tracked, for a special team of public prosecutors to be attached to the SIT to aid the investigation, collection of evidence, and follow up with the trials to ensure convictions, for a witness protection scheme, for medical records to be treated as evidence, and for victims to be monetarily helped so that they can resume their lives.
The recommendations also include deployment of static pickets of the Central Armed Police Forces in villages where more than five complaints have been received. Each of these pickets are recommended to have one to 10 jawans.
Thus, pushing the limits of the allowed bureaucratic bluntness, the EC has clearly defined the depleting condition of law and order in the state and the imminent existential threat most Hindus, majority supporters of the BJP, face in the state.
The Chief Minister of Assam, receiving Hindu families who were forced away from West Bengal on the state border, affirmed the exodus Hindus in West Bengal are starting to fear.
The short-term solution to this violence can come from the people, as many would like to believe, where they take to the roads and endanger law and order in the state with riots, arsons, and killings.
While that would only reconfirm the rusted state of law enforcement in the state, it would be constitutionally incorrect for the Centre to be a quiet audience to it, and allow a precedent like this to be set for other states.
President's Rule, as many have already been demanding, is a solution plagued with judicial and bureaucratic intricacies, and even if the government does push for it, there is no assurance of success here.
There are two long-term solutions available to the BJP, in the Centre and as the primary opposition in the state.
One, start fighting the electoral battle of 2024 and 2026 from today itself.
West Bengal needs Modi now more than ever for people supporting the party found their homes vandalised, burned and decimated.
BJP, in the Centre, must respond to the violence with all the constitutional means. The communication from the Centre must be straightforward — rein in the violence or we rein you in.
At the state level, the cadre must be strengthened by deploying every resource necessary, from monetary to security.
For BJP stalwarts, the state must be a subject of constant focus and attention, and for the next two years, all hands must be on deck to ensure BJP outnumbers the TMC MPs in 2024, thus setting a strong foundation for 2026, assuming the Centre does not have to use Article 356 by then.
However, even if this ensures success in 2026 for the BJP, it does not solve the problem of the rogue faction within the state.
Factoring in the loyal TMC vote bank, would today constitute, as per rough estimates, 35-38 per cent of the state's population by 2026, thanks to the generosity shown by the TMC government since 2011 to illegal immigrants.
Thus, even in the best-case scenario, BJP should not hope to win more than 180 seats of the 290-odd in 2026.
The second solution, ideal but difficult, lies in acknowledging the presence of these illegal immigrants and the brewing communal violence, and thus planning the trifurcation of the state.
Needless to acknowledge, a solution this radical would require the BJP to continue its victorious spree across India, beginning with Uttar Pradesh in 2022, and a wishful 300-plus majority in the Lok Sabha in 2024.
The victories in the states will take care of the numbers in the Rajya Sabha. Narendra Modi will have to showcase his political invincibility, yet again.
The second part of this solution would require an unapologetic narrative against the illegal immigrant community that have made inroads across India.
With the census due for 2021, and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) — another critical exercise — which would be important in identifying the growth of illegal immigrants in West Bengal, the government must ensure they push ahead with brute force in the face of anti-India political opposition.
Optics aside, the TMC must be called out for ushering illegal immigrants and housing them at the cost of the Indian taxpayer.
The political history and trends of West Bengal, elaborated in 12 detailed maps here by Venu Gopal Narayanan, offers the obvious starting reference point for trifurcation.
Much of the Central and Eastern part of the state can be merged with Bihar, Jharkhand, or even Odisha.
At some point, the BJP will have to flex its political muscle for the Gorkhaland movement.
This leaves much of the areas now firmly under the control of the TMC, with an inflated undocumented population of illegal immigrants. The ideal scenario would be for law and order to be imposed in consistency with the constitution, but if all else fails, then as recommended by the EC under the NHRC, CAPF jawans, or worse, the armed forces, would be required to have a significant presence in this state/union territory.
Factoring in the numbers from a 2022 census and a plausible NRC would aid the trifurcation further. For Hindus, parts of the state merged with neighbouring ones would not only offer a safe haven, but also acquaint them with economic development in the region.
Similar economic incentives could be rolled out for Gorkhaland.
It's an idea ahead of its time, or perhaps, plagued with naivety, but if the recent political killings in Bengal are any indicator, the state is starting to resemble more like the Kashmir of the 1980s, and it would be ideal for the BJP to start acknowledging the probability of another exodus.
If they earn the electoral power, they will have to wield it as well.
Having said that, there is always the possibility of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee reining the anti-social elements in her party, to reach out to the impacted Hindu community in the state with plans of economic and social rehabilitation, to take a cue from the Gujarat model and usher an atmosphere for private sector investments.
However, that is for an alternative universe.
When it comes to Bengal, the BJP must start thinking ahead of our times and possibilities.
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