By Ashis Biswas
In West Bengal, the ongoing tirade against the Border Security Force (BSF) coming from the ruling Trinamool Congress(TMC) is essentially old wine in new bottle.
Occasional sideswipes against the Centre-controlled paramilitary forces had always been a part of the political vocabulary of the ruling Left Front (LF) in the state, during its long 34 year tenure. In some ways the TMC is only continuing the left’s political legacy as far as dealings with the Centre and its various agencies politically are concerned. It is a minor, though sensitive, part of the complex relationship between different parties/coalitions ruling the Centre and a state within the Indian federal structure.
Of late TMC MLA Udayan Guha, son of former Forward Bloc (FB) minister and veteran North Bengal leader Kamal Guha, has emerged as the spearhead of the party’s sustained anti-BSF campaign. Udayan was a Forward Bloc MLA earlier, with a reputation for adopting strong arm political tactics in North Bengal, before joining the rapidly ascending TMC some time ago.
Interestingly, even within the Left Front, it was only the FB which had resisted the activities of the para military forces and the police, often intervening physically during ongoing operations! Bigger Left parties like the CPI or the CPI(M), critical as they were of the use of the law enforcement forces/agencies like the BSF, the CRP or the CBI, never physically interfered in their functioning in Bengal . They registered their protests through press statements or indicated their displeasure at meetings with central ministers/leaders on various occasions.
However, since the Front never pulled up the Forward Bloc for such disruptive tactics officially, it may be assumed that Left parties too were broadly supportive of the latter’s disruptive activities, perhaps because of political compulsions that are attendant with the running of coalition ministries. .
There is good reason therefore to view Guha’s recent statements and actions as merely the continuation of the old FB line of opposing and resisting the functions of para military forces, this time as a TMC leader. The question is why the TMC, with hardly anything in common between it and the FB, seems to have fallen in line with what happens to be an old political tactic of the Left.
Looking for an answer, it can be seen that the objective of the FB and the TMC, ironically enough, is the same: the FB pursued such a line to protect its minority vote bank, small as it was. It feared that its supporters in Muslim-dominated areas would be harassed by law enforcing agencies, although there was little witch hunting of any groups of people by any agency/party during the left rule. Why is the TMC is doing the same now? The irony is that as with the FB in the past, the TMC is also playing vote bank politics, in addressing the same constituency among voters: protecting the minorities, especially the Muslims living in the border areas and elsewhere.
Under Jyoti Basu as Bengal chief Minister and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee after him, for all their political and other differences, the army top brass and local heads of para military forces usually had a good working relationship with the state administration. There was, according to a veteran observer, a measure of mutual respect and even bonhomie between Basu and the Chief Of Army (COA) Gen Sam Manekshaw, which helped the Centre and state to cooperate effectively during the Bangladesh liberation war of 1970-71, after millions of distressed people crossed over into Bengal following the crackdown by the Pakistani army. Similarly the then Union Home Minister L.K. Advani and Bhattacharjee too never had any major problems in handling sensitive issues of mutual interest.
With the Forward Bloc, the narrative was totally different. Some years ago, a contingent of Maharashtra policemen were escorting by train some 20 or so Bangladeshis — allegedly illegal migrants. They were being taken to the Indo-Bangla border for a planned hand over to Bangladesh authorities. But after the train had entered Bengal, south Bengal FB leader and MLA Robin Ghosh, leading a crowd of armed supporters, overpowered the outstation police party at a station and whisked away the Bangladeshis! There were no reports of the state police taking any action either.
Unprecedentedly disruptive as the incident was, neither the Congress-ruled Centre nor the ruling Left Front made much of it. It was common knowledge, as claimed by some aggressive Bengal Congress leaders, that the Congress high command and the left parties needed each other for their own ‘special interests’. The leader of such dissident Congress leaders in West Bengal incidentally was a certain feisty lady, named Mamata Banerjee!
Ghosh was never pulled up officially. As for those who were arrested from Maharashtra, they were let off.
This was not the only irritant in the Forward Bloc vs the central law enforcing agencies saga. Union Home ministry circles were repeatedly warned by police/intelligence authorities both at the central and state levels, that illegal migrants from Bangladesh were being provided with shelter and ration cards by a leading FB minister within the ruling LF. Such matters were handled by the minister’s own department, to help them register as Indian citizens with voting rights in south West Kolkata suburbs. Many official reports were prepared; there also followed much correspondence between concerned state and central departments/agencies. But there was hardly any action on the ground!
No wonder the frustration among Congressmen over the official refusal to weed out thousands of ‘false’ voters from the Bengal electoral lists despite years of hard work, boiled over. The explosion of their anger eventually found expression in the Lok Sabha. Mamata Banerjee as a new MP emotionally pleaded for a discussion on problems of the electoral rolls in Bengal in the Lok Sabha. She called for an immediate end to the enrolling of false voters by the ruling Left front. On being refused permission to speak, she hurled her shawls at the house speaker and walked out of the house during a dramatic incident.
With the NDA government assuming power and introducing legislation like the CAA, things have changed substantially. Concerned law enforcing authorities currently ask for all manner of official corroborative documents and other material as proof of one’s citizenship for securing the PAN card or buying mobile phones, to open bank accounts or to register as an applicant in official welfare schemes in Bengal or elsewhere. Naturally, a section of Muslims, especially those poorer, have to face much harassment. Incidentally the same is true of the poorer Bengali Hindus, whether in Assam or elsewhere in the Northeast. There are many instances of excesses committed by overzealous officials. (IPA Service)