First came the warning, a caller asking: Ebar, which translates into just one word: Now?
Then came the second warning. Six boisterous men came and smashed everything outside the house of Ashomonjo Bhowmick, a small-time BJP worker in Bhatpara, a bustling industrial neighbourhood known for its jute mills.
Then came the third warning: Two men carrying iron rods smashed Bhowmick’s car beyond repair. They even taunted him for carrying a top BJP leader in the car during the polls.
And then came another cold call, the caller said: Ebar Tui which translates into You Next. Bhowmick’s mother, Lupirani, remembered what had told her son before the start of the assembly election process in Bengal. She told Bhowmick that she dreaded what her son would face if BJP loses the show.
She knew the Trinamool Congress, over the course of a decade, had earned a dark and near-mythic reputation for cruelty. Her fears were realized when she saw her son in trouble. Worse, Bhowmick got no help from the party. Senior leaders merely told him to run and save his skin (read life).
Bhowmick went into hiding. A friend did not offer him a room but his terrace surrounded by coconut and palm trees. Bhowmick was five miles away, nights spent on a mat on a humid floor.
His only solace: He is not the only BJP worker who is on the run in Bengal where the ruling TMC swept the polls and unleashed violence in the hinterland. There are many like him on the run.
Subhashini Ali of CPM and former MP, tweeted in total shock: “TMC has won decisively but that has increased its aggression against political opponents. Our AIDWA comrade Kakoli Kshetrapal was brutally murdered in her home in Jamalpur, Burdwan, two days ago. Appalling, no justice can be expected. We have lost a brave woman comrade.”
Ali knew it was not happening only to the Left candidates.
There are hundreds, sorry thousands of BJP workers who just want to save their lives, as Bengal’s hinterland explodes with riots, disorder and killing. As many as 12 have died in the last 48 hours, videos and photos of fires and blood-smeared walls, shot on handsets, have spread across social media. Unofficial count doubled the figure.
Worried, tensed, the BJP workers are wondering whether they will survive in face of this severe onslaught by TMC workers. What is worrying is that none of the rioters have been apprehended and there remains a sense that the BJP must now reckon with a disaster that has been a long coming.
Worse, the state government does not want anyone to talk about it. The killings in Bengal look like a vicious pogrom.
People of Burdwan and Midnapur districts are the latest casualties of violence, voter intimidation and sectarian politics that always accompany Indian polls.
“The TMC wants to tell us to get out of politics, get out of the state. Only we (TMC) will rule,” Bhowmick told me late last night. He wanted to escape to Assam.
It is reliably learnt that top officials of Bengal BJP have kept over 20,000 workers from the hinterland at an undisclosed location close to the airport under heavy guards. The workers, mostly young, had run away from their homes and were being fed by senior members of Bengal BJP.
Unconfirmed reports said Swapan Dasgupta, BJP contender from Tarakeswar, alerted the party high command about an estimated 1000 Hindu families who were allegedly being targeted by TMC workers, mostly Muslims, in rural Bengal.
This reporter’s interactions with many in the villages of Burdwan and Midnapur in Bengal brought up interesting insights. They told me that the pandemic also played a crucial role, feuds festered in Hindu and Muslim communities and there were occasions when they could not escape each other’s presence, triggering a cycle of violence.
Some of the initial fights, which happened before the election process started, were low-key. At times, rival gangs would pour Follidol in ponds that would poison the water and kill fish. But once the results were out and it was clear TMC was way, way ahead of the BJP, the ground level workers of TMC went berserk.
“We are seeing larger and larger crowds standing outside homes of BJP workers, waiting to attack. This is a very dangerous situation,” Indrani Biswas, a BJP leader in Bolpur wrote on her timeline, lamenting the sudden disappearance of BJP candidate Anirban Ganguly after losing the Bolpur seat to TMC’s Chandranath Sinha.
To many, it looked like a state-sponsored death roll, the hinterland slowly turning into killing fields with virtually no preventive action from the state police.
Lahiri was quoted by a regional daily that he did inform the party workers before leaving Bolpur but many felt the candidate left all party workers in the lurch and left Bolpur to save himself from marauding TMC workers.
“There is a state of helplessness in Bolpur, we cannot save ourselves. People who are pro BJP are attacked and party workers are being targeted so that they can be killed,” wrote Biswas.
Political experts say the violence was expected. Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee had disliked the presence of Central Forces deployed for the polls and had made it clear that she would teach the BJP workers a lesson right after the elections were over. BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra even shared a video of a threatening Banerjee on Twitter.
Union Minister Babul Supriyo, who lost in Tollygunge, said he was not able to visit Bengal because his car would be attacked by TMC workers. He urged BJP workers in the state to save themselves first by shifting from their homes to undisclosed locations.
Gobardhan Das, a renowned molecular scientist who was fielded by the BJP to contest from the Purbasthali Uttar seat in Bengal’s East Burdwan district, got CRPF cover. He sought help after crude bombs were hurled at his home today by alleged TMC workers..
Das, a Professor of Molecular Medicine at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, said several incidents of violence against BJP workers have come to light since the Election Commission of India (ECI) declared poll results.
On Sunday, May 2, 2021, Avijit Sarkar took to Facebook to narrate the harrowing tale of violence by TMC workers. The video was uploaded just hours before Sarkar was lynched to death by the miscreants. “I don’t know how to come live (on Facebook). They hurled bombs right in front of my eyes and vandalised my house and party office. My only mistake is that I am a BJP worker,” he recounted.
PM Narendra Modi spoke to Bengal governor Jagdeep Dhankar and asked him to ensure safety of BJP workers in Bengal.
The Union ministry of home affairs (MHA) on Monday said it has sought a report from the Bengal government over reports of this post-poll violence in the state.
“MHA has asked the West Bengal government for a report on the post-election violence targeting opposition political workers in the state,” it said in a tweet.
The Trinamool Congress claimed three of its supporters were killed by the BJP, which rejected the allegations, saying the incidents were the result of “people’s resistance”. The incident took place when some TMC supporters were on the way to Nabagram in the Jamalpur police station area on their motorcycles and were allegedly attacked by BJP workers, the sources said.
In Kolkata, senior TMC leaders said the opposite and blamed the BJP for unleashing violence on TMC workers. The TMC said the BJP even killed some of the TMC workers, a charge denied by the BJP.
“We built a counter-resistance and the TMC attackers fled. But they returned via another route, forcibly entered my house, and attacked my family members. My mother died in the attack,” said BJP Bengal leader Ashish Khetrapal. He further said TMC supporters also injured his father and uncle, vandalised and looted 17-18 houses in the area.
TMC supporters were also accused of vandalising the homes and shops of BJP workers in various parts of Galsi village in East Burdwan. In Kolkata, a person died after he was severely assaulted by TMC workers in the Kankurgachi neighbourhood on Sunday night, police said. The person, claimed by his family to have been a BJP activist, was declared brought dead when taken to a nearby hospital, the police said. A few houses in Jadavpur area of South Kolkata were vandalised by unknown miscreants, who were alleged to be members of TMC.
BJP state president Dilip Ghosh told reporters here that neither the state police nor the administration came to their help.
He claimed that the mother of a booth president was killed during an attack by TMC workers at Jagatdal in North 24 Parganas district and another person was killed at Sonarpur in South 24 Parganas. Another BJP supporter was killed in Beleghata area of the city, while two others were killed in similar attacks at Ranaghat in Nadia district and Sitalkuchi in Coochbehar, he said.
In Jalpaiguri in North Bengal, the newly-elected legislator of Dabgram-Phulbari, Sikha Chatterjee of BJP alleged that miscreants supported by the TMC attacked her house. She even took reporters inside her house to show them the destruction caused by the attackers. She also alleged that houses of BJP workers were vandalised and a vehicle was damaged at Chunabhatti area of Dabgram-Phulbari constituency, where state minister and TMC leader Gautam Deb was defeated by BJP.
Following widespread violence in the state, Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar summoned the state Home Secretary, DGP and Kolkata Commissioner of Police and directed them to restore peace.
Mamata Banerjee, meanwhile, urged her supporters to maintain peace amid reports of violence and asked them not to fall prey to provocations. “Even after the results were announced, BJP attacked our supporters in certain areas but we ask our men not to get provoked and instead report to the police,” Banerjee told reporters.
The bloodbath is far from over.