West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her administration seem to working at cross purposes. She has denied any rioting at Dhulagarh in Howrah district, even as state government officials have acted against the wrongdoers. At the heart of the issue lies her proclivity to downplay Muslim aggression at the town.
“In the last 15 days, social media is running wrong information on an incident which did not take place at all,” Banerjee said at a programme in Kolkata on Friday. This is despite the fact that Dhulagarh is barely 20 km from the state secretariat. “In order to break a news one must not act irresponsibly. If something has really happened then you [media] have every right to report but I think a field survey must be conducted.”
The message is clear and unambiguous: the disturbances are the result of media creation rather than of Islamist mischief. Her assertion flies in the face of desertion of Hindus from the area. In fact, her own administration is paying compensation to the tune of Rs 35,000 to each family whose house has been damaged in the incident. The victims are reluctant to return to their homes at Dhulagarh.
The state authorities have denied permission to the delegations of the BJP, the CPI(M), and Congress to visit the troubled areas. A top cop, Superintendent of Police, Howrah (Rural) Sabyasachi Raman Mishra, has been transferred within a fortnight of his appointment.
Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Thursday rightly pointed out that Hindus have been victims of the violence. “This is height of the politics of appeasement. I want to ask those intellectuals, who cried over 2002 riots in Gujarat and then intolerant India, that when are they going to Kolkata.”
You should know better, Mr. Prasad: intellectuals are sensitive only to the pain of Muslims. Their reaction is familiar.
The disturbances, which began on 12 December, also have a ring of familiarity around them. A procession, two groups clashing. Desertion by Hindus. There is a pattern. A number of areas in India are increasingly becoming Muslim-dominated, with Hindus leaving them.
If the media reports such developments, it is accused of sensationalizing or communalizing the issue. Some journalists even have to face legal action. The West Bengal government has filed criminal charges against three employees of the TV channel Zee News, including editor Sudhir Chaudhary. In his Facebook account, Chaudhary wrote, “It’s another low point in our democracy to see a democratically elected govt using police force to curb media in an effort to suppress uncomfortable facts and reality. When you can’t manage media, use the state machinery to conquer the media only to conceal the failures of your administration. It shows the intolerance of a chief minister who is using the state machinery as her personal fiefdom and acting like a feudal lord.”
So far, there has been no comment from the bodies like Editors’ Guild on the prosecution of Zee News, nor have the self-appointed champions of free speech have expressed outrage against the gagging of the press. Muslim appeasement by politicians and intellectual chicanery go hand in hand.