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Battleground Bengal: Gorkha voices matter

Most constituencies where polling was held in phase five have large population of Gorkhas, a community whose concerns have been falling on deaf ears for decades

17 Apr 2021

Image Courtesy:thefederal.com

Polling for phase five of assembly elections took place across 15,789 polling stations in the 45 constituencies in West Bengal today. At the close of polls just over 78 percent of voters had exercised their right to vote. Districts where polling took place were North 24 Parganas Part I, Darjeeling, Nadia Part I, Kalimpong, East Bardhaman Part I and Jalpaiguri.

The Gorkha community that resides predominantly in the hills of North Bengal and has a significant population in Darjeeling and Kalimpong, and parts of Jalpaiguri stands to be impacted the most by the outcome of this phase of the election. This is because successive governments have ignored their concerns over the last few decades, and even now, the non-Gorkha parties are only making vague promises.

For example, when Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and Union Home Minister Amit Shah visited the region on April 13, he promised a “permanent political solution” using “double-engine government of the BJP – one at the Center and one in Bengal”, and that Gorkhas will not have to resort to agitations any more. But he failed to acknowledge why Gorkhas had to resort to agitations in the first place.

It is easy to club aspirations of all people as that for economic and infrastructural development. But in doing that one ignores not only history, but also the fact that who people are, plays a role in determining what they want. Thus, development means different things to different people: to some it is glitzy shopping malls with glass facades and international coffee shop chains, to others it means autonomy, cultural recognition and respect for traditional way of life, to yet some others it means freedom to conduct small businesses for sustenance, running water, electricity, internet…

One cannot simply replicate one region’s development model into a completely different region, and one cannot ignore the aspirations of people whose lived experience determines their political demands.

Let us first understand what the Gorkhas want. Because it is not just the BJP, but even the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) is not off the hook for ignoring the demands of the community.

Demand for Gorkhaland

The demand for Gorkhaland goes back to even before independence. The proposed state of Gorkhaland would include hill regions of Kalimpong and Darjeeling, the Dooars regions including Japaiguri, Alipurduars and parts of Cooch Behar district. This works out to a state that would be larger than Goa and Sikkim put together and be home to approximately 4 million people including Gorkhas, as well as people of many other ethnicities including Rajbongshis, Adivasis, Bengalis and others.The demand for a separate state was primarily based on the grounds that Gorkhas were culturally and ethnically distinct from West Bengal.

After independence the movement continued to quietly simmer, but gathered momentum in the 80s. However, at this point things took a violent term and as many as 1,200 people died during the agitation. In 1988 the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) was formed and operated with a certain degree of autonomy for over two decades.

But in 2007 the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) revived the demand for Gorkhaland. Bimal Gurung emerged as a key leader of the movement at this point. But what followed was a period where there were differences and clashes between different Gorkha groups. Things took a particularly dark turn with the assassination of Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League leader Madan Tamang. His group pointed fingers at the GJM. This also threw a spanner in the works, effectively halting all discussions with the West Bengal government that now filed FIRs against GJM leaders. But the bloodbath did not stop here. In February 2011, when Bimal Gurung was leading a padyatra (march), three GJM activists were shot dead as they tried to enter Jalpaiguri district. Violence erupted in Darjeeling and GJM called for the strike. The entire area was shut down for nine days at that time.

The demand for a separate state once again gathered steam in 2013 after the creation of Telangana. There was a largely peaceful “bandh” (shutdown) in August in response to a call by GJM and on August 16, all pro-Gorkhaland parties came together to informally form a joint action committee.  

2017 blockade

The memory of the 2017 blockade that lasted 104 days is still fresh in the minds of those for whom it was their lived experience. Trouble began when the West Bengal government announced in May that Bengali should be made a compulsory language in all schools. This was seen as an imposition of Bengali on a population that largely speaks Nepali.

The protests were peaceful, but intensified between June 5 and 8 that year when Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was visiting the area. The state government was forced to soften its stand and conceded that Bengali would be an optional subject in the Hills. But the GJM did not stop at this and intensified the agitation. On June 9, paramilitary forces were called in by the state government. Sporadic clashes between protesters and police erupted all over the region. But matters took a dark turn after police raided the GJM office. After this the GJM called an indefinite strike and thus began the blockade.

What followed was a period of violent protests. It wasn’t just about holding rallies any more. There was widespread rioting, and even instances of houses, government property and vehicles being set on fire. At least ten people were reported to have been killed during this period. On June 18, internet services were suspended across the Hills.

Protesters even held a march in New Delhi in July. Several rounds of talks followed, and it was only after a meeting with Rajnath Singh who was the Home Minister at the time, that the strike was called off by GJM leader Binay Tamang. With several charges slapped against him, some even under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), Bimal Gurung was forced into exile.

Split in the GJM

In 2017, the GJM split into two factions; one led by exiled leader Bimal Gurung and another by Binay Tamang and Anit Thapa. The Bimal Gurung faction was initially a part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) but walked out of the alliance in October 2020 and joined the alliance led by Mamata Banerjee’s TMC. On October 21, after three years in exile, Bimal Gurung was finally spotted in Kolkata.

In March this year, Gurung addressed a rally saying, “Regionalism is under threat (from the BJP). I appeal to the GNLF, the CPRM, the ABGL and all other hill parties to come together, let us work together. Without regional parties, regional issues cannot be raised.” Gurung lost two of his men when they jumped ship to the BJP; Subha Pradhan is the BJP candidate from Kalimpong, while BP Bajgain who is the BJP candidate from Kurseong is also a GJM (PG-faction) turncoat. The demand was statehood appears to have been put on the back-burner for now as the primary objective appears to be defeating the BJP.

The Binay Tamang-Anit Thapa faction was already a TMC ally. Meanwhile, BJP has fielded the sitting Darjeeling MLA, Neeraj Zimba as their candidate. He is a Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) leader. But given how both GJM factions have pitched candidates, the political fates of all remain at peril.

Gorkhas and NRC

Meanwhile, there is another major concern of the Gorkhas to which only Mamata Banerjee has given any clear solution. After several Gorkhas living in Assam found themselves excluded from the National Register of Citizens (NRC), there were concerns raised by the members of the community living in West Bengal. Amit Shah has made a rather vague promise on the subject.

“The NRC has not been implemented in Bengal…. Some people are spreading lies. Even if it is implemented, not a single Gorkha needs to be bothered about it,” Shah said while addressing a rally held at Gorkha Stadium in Lebong, Darjeeling on April 13. But failed to explain what he meant when he said that Gorkhas needn’t bother about the NRC. He did not clarify if the community would be exempt. However, Mamata Banerjee has categorically said that she will never allow NRC in West Bengal, a promise that actually allays fears.

Now that voting has concluded, Gorkhas, like everyone else will have to wait for results to be declared on May 2.

Related:

Battleground Bengal: EC denies request to club remaining phases, reduces campaigning hours
Battleground Bengal: Demand for clubbing phases after surge in Covid cases
Battleground Bengal: Fake news flourishes, videos go viral on social media

Battleground Bengal: Gorkha voices matter

Most constituencies where polling was held in phase five have large population of Gorkhas, a community whose concerns have been falling on deaf ears for decades

Image Courtesy:thefederal.com

Polling for phase five of assembly elections took place across 15,789 polling stations in the 45 constituencies in West Bengal today. At the close of polls just over 78 percent of voters had exercised their right to vote. Districts where polling took place were North 24 Parganas Part I, Darjeeling, Nadia Part I, Kalimpong, East Bardhaman Part I and Jalpaiguri.

The Gorkha community that resides predominantly in the hills of North Bengal and has a significant population in Darjeeling and Kalimpong, and parts of Jalpaiguri stands to be impacted the most by the outcome of this phase of the election. This is because successive governments have ignored their concerns over the last few decades, and even now, the non-Gorkha parties are only making vague promises.

For example, when Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and Union Home Minister Amit Shah visited the region on April 13, he promised a “permanent political solution” using “double-engine government of the BJP – one at the Center and one in Bengal”, and that Gorkhas will not have to resort to agitations any more. But he failed to acknowledge why Gorkhas had to resort to agitations in the first place.

It is easy to club aspirations of all people as that for economic and infrastructural development. But in doing that one ignores not only history, but also the fact that who people are, plays a role in determining what they want. Thus, development means different things to different people: to some it is glitzy shopping malls with glass facades and international coffee shop chains, to others it means autonomy, cultural recognition and respect for traditional way of life, to yet some others it means freedom to conduct small businesses for sustenance, running water, electricity, internet…

One cannot simply replicate one region’s development model into a completely different region, and one cannot ignore the aspirations of people whose lived experience determines their political demands.

Let us first understand what the Gorkhas want. Because it is not just the BJP, but even the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) is not off the hook for ignoring the demands of the community.

Demand for Gorkhaland

The demand for Gorkhaland goes back to even before independence. The proposed state of Gorkhaland would include hill regions of Kalimpong and Darjeeling, the Dooars regions including Japaiguri, Alipurduars and parts of Cooch Behar district. This works out to a state that would be larger than Goa and Sikkim put together and be home to approximately 4 million people including Gorkhas, as well as people of many other ethnicities including Rajbongshis, Adivasis, Bengalis and others.The demand for a separate state was primarily based on the grounds that Gorkhas were culturally and ethnically distinct from West Bengal.

After independence the movement continued to quietly simmer, but gathered momentum in the 80s. However, at this point things took a violent term and as many as 1,200 people died during the agitation. In 1988 the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) was formed and operated with a certain degree of autonomy for over two decades.

But in 2007 the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) revived the demand for Gorkhaland. Bimal Gurung emerged as a key leader of the movement at this point. But what followed was a period where there were differences and clashes between different Gorkha groups. Things took a particularly dark turn with the assassination of Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League leader Madan Tamang. His group pointed fingers at the GJM. This also threw a spanner in the works, effectively halting all discussions with the West Bengal government that now filed FIRs against GJM leaders. But the bloodbath did not stop here. In February 2011, when Bimal Gurung was leading a padyatra (march), three GJM activists were shot dead as they tried to enter Jalpaiguri district. Violence erupted in Darjeeling and GJM called for the strike. The entire area was shut down for nine days at that time.

The demand for a separate state once again gathered steam in 2013 after the creation of Telangana. There was a largely peaceful “bandh” (shutdown) in August in response to a call by GJM and on August 16, all pro-Gorkhaland parties came together to informally form a joint action committee.  

2017 blockade

The memory of the 2017 blockade that lasted 104 days is still fresh in the minds of those for whom it was their lived experience. Trouble began when the West Bengal government announced in May that Bengali should be made a compulsory language in all schools. This was seen as an imposition of Bengali on a population that largely speaks Nepali.

The protests were peaceful, but intensified between June 5 and 8 that year when Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was visiting the area. The state government was forced to soften its stand and conceded that Bengali would be an optional subject in the Hills. But the GJM did not stop at this and intensified the agitation. On June 9, paramilitary forces were called in by the state government. Sporadic clashes between protesters and police erupted all over the region. But matters took a dark turn after police raided the GJM office. After this the GJM called an indefinite strike and thus began the blockade.

What followed was a period of violent protests. It wasn’t just about holding rallies any more. There was widespread rioting, and even instances of houses, government property and vehicles being set on fire. At least ten people were reported to have been killed during this period. On June 18, internet services were suspended across the Hills.

Protesters even held a march in New Delhi in July. Several rounds of talks followed, and it was only after a meeting with Rajnath Singh who was the Home Minister at the time, that the strike was called off by GJM leader Binay Tamang. With several charges slapped against him, some even under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), Bimal Gurung was forced into exile.

Split in the GJM

In 2017, the GJM split into two factions; one led by exiled leader Bimal Gurung and another by Binay Tamang and Anit Thapa. The Bimal Gurung faction was initially a part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) but walked out of the alliance in October 2020 and joined the alliance led by Mamata Banerjee’s TMC. On October 21, after three years in exile, Bimal Gurung was finally spotted in Kolkata.

In March this year, Gurung addressed a rally saying, “Regionalism is under threat (from the BJP). I appeal to the GNLF, the CPRM, the ABGL and all other hill parties to come together, let us work together. Without regional parties, regional issues cannot be raised.” Gurung lost two of his men when they jumped ship to the BJP; Subha Pradhan is the BJP candidate from Kalimpong, while BP Bajgain who is the BJP candidate from Kurseong is also a GJM (PG-faction) turncoat. The demand was statehood appears to have been put on the back-burner for now as the primary objective appears to be defeating the BJP.

The Binay Tamang-Anit Thapa faction was already a TMC ally. Meanwhile, BJP has fielded the sitting Darjeeling MLA, Neeraj Zimba as their candidate. He is a Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) leader. But given how both GJM factions have pitched candidates, the political fates of all remain at peril.

Gorkhas and NRC

Meanwhile, there is another major concern of the Gorkhas to which only Mamata Banerjee has given any clear solution. After several Gorkhas living in Assam found themselves excluded from the National Register of Citizens (NRC), there were concerns raised by the members of the community living in West Bengal. Amit Shah has made a rather vague promise on the subject.

“The NRC has not been implemented in Bengal…. Some people are spreading lies. Even if it is implemented, not a single Gorkha needs to be bothered about it,” Shah said while addressing a rally held at Gorkha Stadium in Lebong, Darjeeling on April 13. But failed to explain what he meant when he said that Gorkhas needn’t bother about the NRC. He did not clarify if the community would be exempt. However, Mamata Banerjee has categorically said that she will never allow NRC in West Bengal, a promise that actually allays fears.

Now that voting has concluded, Gorkhas, like everyone else will have to wait for results to be declared on May 2.

Related:

Battleground Bengal: EC denies request to club remaining phases, reduces campaigning hours
Battleground Bengal: Demand for clubbing phases after surge in Covid cases
Battleground Bengal: Fake news flourishes, videos go viral on social media

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Lucknow: High demand for "Jai Shree Ram" masks

Citizens look for divine intervention as Uttar Pradesh government fails miserably in controlling the spread of the Coronavirus

17 Apr 2021

Image Courtesy:punjabnewsexpress.com

As Covid-19 cases continue to rise in India, Lucknow mask sellers have observed a recent rise in demand for masks with "Jai Shree Ram" printed on them, reported the Navbharat Times on April 16, 2021.

States like Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh have reported an increasing number of coronavirus cases recently. Anxious for a solution, people seem to be seeking divine intervention, hoping masks with "Jai Shree Ram" printed on them might protect them better than regular masks. Local buyers told NBT that they hope the mask will cure the disease. 

On Friday, the infection broke all records recording 27,426 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours in Uttar Pradesh. Of these, as many as 6,598 cases have been found in Lucknow, while 1,758 cases were found in Prayagraj. Varanasi recorded 2,344 cases and 1,403 cases were discovered in Kanpur.

Wholesale mask seller Ramesh Chandra Gupta from Aminabad was quoted by local media as saying that during the second wave of the pandemic, more people have asked for such masks. Gupta had to place a second order following speedy sale of the product. These masks are also used for panchayat elections wherein candidates print their photos on the mask or buy such masks for rallies and leaders. Gupta said he also received requests for the Jai Shree Ram mask from Pratapgarh Rae Bareli. He said that the huge demand has compelled artisans to pull all-nighters to complete the order in time.

Ashok Singh, operator of the Varanasi Corona Mall told NBT that masks have become a powerful medium to fight the Coronavirus. However, he said that such devotional masks have always been on demand. Just that this time, people are ordering the "Jai Shree Ram" mask.

Meanwhile, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath remains in isolation after he was diagnosed as Covid positive.

Related:

Gujarat HC directs State to be honest about Covid data
Covid-19: Bihar Hospitals face shortage of beds, patients being turned away
Covid continues to claim more lives, as many state gov'ts find themselves overwhelmed
Uttar Pradesh is reeling under Covid-19 crisis, who is in charge?

Lucknow: High demand for "Jai Shree Ram" masks

Citizens look for divine intervention as Uttar Pradesh government fails miserably in controlling the spread of the Coronavirus

Image Courtesy:punjabnewsexpress.com

As Covid-19 cases continue to rise in India, Lucknow mask sellers have observed a recent rise in demand for masks with "Jai Shree Ram" printed on them, reported the Navbharat Times on April 16, 2021.

States like Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh have reported an increasing number of coronavirus cases recently. Anxious for a solution, people seem to be seeking divine intervention, hoping masks with "Jai Shree Ram" printed on them might protect them better than regular masks. Local buyers told NBT that they hope the mask will cure the disease. 

On Friday, the infection broke all records recording 27,426 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours in Uttar Pradesh. Of these, as many as 6,598 cases have been found in Lucknow, while 1,758 cases were found in Prayagraj. Varanasi recorded 2,344 cases and 1,403 cases were discovered in Kanpur.

Wholesale mask seller Ramesh Chandra Gupta from Aminabad was quoted by local media as saying that during the second wave of the pandemic, more people have asked for such masks. Gupta had to place a second order following speedy sale of the product. These masks are also used for panchayat elections wherein candidates print their photos on the mask or buy such masks for rallies and leaders. Gupta said he also received requests for the Jai Shree Ram mask from Pratapgarh Rae Bareli. He said that the huge demand has compelled artisans to pull all-nighters to complete the order in time.

Ashok Singh, operator of the Varanasi Corona Mall told NBT that masks have become a powerful medium to fight the Coronavirus. However, he said that such devotional masks have always been on demand. Just that this time, people are ordering the "Jai Shree Ram" mask.

Meanwhile, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath remains in isolation after he was diagnosed as Covid positive.

Related:

Gujarat HC directs State to be honest about Covid data
Covid-19: Bihar Hospitals face shortage of beds, patients being turned away
Covid continues to claim more lives, as many state gov'ts find themselves overwhelmed
Uttar Pradesh is reeling under Covid-19 crisis, who is in charge?

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Address people’s anguish to restore peace in J&K: CCG to GoI

Following a visit to the Valley, CCG members reported on the state of Kashmiris, and suggested fresh dialogue to address the pressing issues of Jammu and Kashmir

17 Apr 2021

Image Courtesy:kashmirobserver.net

Address the sense of defeat and anger amongst Kashmiris by opening up democratic spaces for people, said the Concerned Citizens’ Group (CCG) on April 15, 2021 after its eighth visit to the Valley.

Following a short visit to the region between March 30 and April 2, members Yashwant Sinha, Sushobha Barve, Wajahat Habibullah and others reported on Kashmir’s condition in their eighth report about Kashmir. In it, the CCG noted Kashmiris do not have a space to express their dissent or criticism of government policies or police action on any platform.

“Journalism has been virtually criminalised. No protests by civil society are allowed, nor are rallies by political parties permitted. The police do not hesitate to summon journalists and ordinary citizens and even lock them up under the Public Safety Act,” said the report.

An intellectual speaking to CCG members said that the population that felt no ill-will towards India is “non-existent” nowadays. People said they were wary of news coming in from Delhi. Members said they have never previously heard so many people expressing hatred of Delhi, and the Indian state as openly as during the last visit.

Following the Covid-19 pandemic and the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019, the former state has been in a double lockdown. Locals believe that the pandemic that has not caused Kashmir-specific problems will eventually pass. Businesses are slowly recovering as the tourism industry revives, although small businesses still struggle to stay afloat.

However, Kashmiris still question the Modi-government's move of altering the relationship between India and Jammu and Kashmir.

“Since August 2019 there have been changes in the administrative structure of the bifurcated Jammu and Kashmir. Old political parties are sought to be dismantled and the formation of new ones is being facilitated by Delhi. It is not clear whether Kashmir will resist the changes being imposed on it or accept them with resignation. The local political leadership is either silent or being forced into silence for fear of the Indian state,” said the report.

Moreover, locals expressed an overwhelming sense of despondency that there are no significant voices in India who can speak for them or offer resistance to what has happened to them. They also told CCG members that they felt powerless when considering the strength of those who brought about these changes in Jammu and Kashmir. Citizens also hesitated to speak about other major protests in the country such as the farmers’ agitation or the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests because they feel that their issues will get drowned in the larger ones encompassing India.

“We don’t have leaders just as India does not have leaders who have a well thought out critique of the RSS and the BJP and who can lead the people against their designs,” a Kashmiri public intellectual summed up the dilemma.

A business leader in the area also told CCG, Kashmiris were carefully watching communal tensions and conflagrations in mainland India such as the treatment of Muslims to understand their own plight. Beef-related lynching, cow politics and the so-called ‘Love Jihad’ laws, police violence on Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University campuses, anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests and the wanton use of NSA against protestors made Kashmiris cautious about Indian democracy.

To allay some of these concerns, the CCG recommended that civil society organisations be allowed to hold meetings, seminars, and discussions giving people a platform to vent their emotions and relieve the psychological pressure on them. It also suggested that the Indian government not impose artificial political processes on Kashmiris that are bereft of any democratic muscle. The CCG said national Opposition political parties should be able to visit Kashmir, move around freely and meet local political leaders and civil society actors.

The local political collective People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) already expressed difficulties in organising a full-fledged Secretariat and a multi-layered structure, both of which are necessary to strengthen its foundational objectives. At the district-level, the CCG observed that people were moved by PAGD’s resolve to protect the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.

During District Development Councils (DDC) elections, people supported the collective. However, meeting with DDC Chairman Mohammed Afzal Parray at the Chowalgam Rest House in Kulgam on April 1 revealed that security personnel prevented Elected Councillors from meeting the public. They were all kept cooped up in a local hotel and repeatedly humiliated by officials for facilities like transport and security, which they were assured was to be provided by the Police Control Room (PCR). Meanwhile, the public, including Councillors, were expected to pay the full fee for electricity connections, although supply was uncertain and erratic.

“The DDC members could offer nothing to the youth, except the prospect of jail. Many stood arrested, amongst whom many remained untraced with Councillors given no assistance in tracing their whereabouts. All felt unsafe,” said Parray.

In response to this, the CCG demanded that DDC members be allowed to visit their constituencies and that the district bureaucracy be made accountable to the DDC. Further, the Delimitation Commission offices should be shifted to Jammu and Kashmir from Delhi so that people can easily access the place.

Moreover, the CCG observed that the government needs to pay special attention to the physical safety and economic well-being of Kashmir’s minorities, especially the non-migrant Kashmiri Pandits, Sikhs and Shias who have lived peacefully in the Valley for centuries. Kashmiri Pandits pointed out that although they were continuously ignored from government plans, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) repeatedly uses their plight as an election argument.

Other persisting issues such as ceasefire along the LOC, friction between non-Kashmiri security officers and local communities and drug addiction worsen the situation in the valley. Support for militancy grows as security forces continue to blow up houses where militants are suspected to take shelter, even during severe winters.

CCG members said that the Indian government should restore the earlier policy of restraint and preventing ‘collateral damage’ during counter-insurgency operations by security forces. However, despite such “balm to wound” suggestions, members observed that the Kashmiri youth hate India, having witnessed violent protests on streets for the past decade and brutal action by police and security forces.

“When they see no options, they are willing to take up the gun. Even if they do not have access to guns as of now, locals point out, they have militancy on their mind,” said the report.

Members also noted that many youngsters considered the Indian flag atop government buildings as a sign of provocation while parents preferred to send their child abroad rather than to other parts of India.

“To bring about peace and restore the identity and honour of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, the central government would have to restore its statehood and start a dialogue for a fresh distribution of powers between the Centre and the State, keeping in mind the special history of the region’s accession to India,” concluded the report.

The entire report may be viewed here: 

Related:

Veteran Human rights lawyer IA Rehman passes away in Lahore
The ‘middle’ ground in Kashmir has been completely wiped out: Yashwant Sinha
In Kashmir, even ordinary citizens now speaking language of militants and separatists
Handling of electronic evidence by agencies a perversion of criminal justice: CCG

Address people’s anguish to restore peace in J&K: CCG to GoI

Following a visit to the Valley, CCG members reported on the state of Kashmiris, and suggested fresh dialogue to address the pressing issues of Jammu and Kashmir

Image Courtesy:kashmirobserver.net

Address the sense of defeat and anger amongst Kashmiris by opening up democratic spaces for people, said the Concerned Citizens’ Group (CCG) on April 15, 2021 after its eighth visit to the Valley.

Following a short visit to the region between March 30 and April 2, members Yashwant Sinha, Sushobha Barve, Wajahat Habibullah and others reported on Kashmir’s condition in their eighth report about Kashmir. In it, the CCG noted Kashmiris do not have a space to express their dissent or criticism of government policies or police action on any platform.

“Journalism has been virtually criminalised. No protests by civil society are allowed, nor are rallies by political parties permitted. The police do not hesitate to summon journalists and ordinary citizens and even lock them up under the Public Safety Act,” said the report.

An intellectual speaking to CCG members said that the population that felt no ill-will towards India is “non-existent” nowadays. People said they were wary of news coming in from Delhi. Members said they have never previously heard so many people expressing hatred of Delhi, and the Indian state as openly as during the last visit.

Following the Covid-19 pandemic and the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019, the former state has been in a double lockdown. Locals believe that the pandemic that has not caused Kashmir-specific problems will eventually pass. Businesses are slowly recovering as the tourism industry revives, although small businesses still struggle to stay afloat.

However, Kashmiris still question the Modi-government's move of altering the relationship between India and Jammu and Kashmir.

“Since August 2019 there have been changes in the administrative structure of the bifurcated Jammu and Kashmir. Old political parties are sought to be dismantled and the formation of new ones is being facilitated by Delhi. It is not clear whether Kashmir will resist the changes being imposed on it or accept them with resignation. The local political leadership is either silent or being forced into silence for fear of the Indian state,” said the report.

Moreover, locals expressed an overwhelming sense of despondency that there are no significant voices in India who can speak for them or offer resistance to what has happened to them. They also told CCG members that they felt powerless when considering the strength of those who brought about these changes in Jammu and Kashmir. Citizens also hesitated to speak about other major protests in the country such as the farmers’ agitation or the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests because they feel that their issues will get drowned in the larger ones encompassing India.

“We don’t have leaders just as India does not have leaders who have a well thought out critique of the RSS and the BJP and who can lead the people against their designs,” a Kashmiri public intellectual summed up the dilemma.

A business leader in the area also told CCG, Kashmiris were carefully watching communal tensions and conflagrations in mainland India such as the treatment of Muslims to understand their own plight. Beef-related lynching, cow politics and the so-called ‘Love Jihad’ laws, police violence on Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University campuses, anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests and the wanton use of NSA against protestors made Kashmiris cautious about Indian democracy.

To allay some of these concerns, the CCG recommended that civil society organisations be allowed to hold meetings, seminars, and discussions giving people a platform to vent their emotions and relieve the psychological pressure on them. It also suggested that the Indian government not impose artificial political processes on Kashmiris that are bereft of any democratic muscle. The CCG said national Opposition political parties should be able to visit Kashmir, move around freely and meet local political leaders and civil society actors.

The local political collective People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) already expressed difficulties in organising a full-fledged Secretariat and a multi-layered structure, both of which are necessary to strengthen its foundational objectives. At the district-level, the CCG observed that people were moved by PAGD’s resolve to protect the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.

During District Development Councils (DDC) elections, people supported the collective. However, meeting with DDC Chairman Mohammed Afzal Parray at the Chowalgam Rest House in Kulgam on April 1 revealed that security personnel prevented Elected Councillors from meeting the public. They were all kept cooped up in a local hotel and repeatedly humiliated by officials for facilities like transport and security, which they were assured was to be provided by the Police Control Room (PCR). Meanwhile, the public, including Councillors, were expected to pay the full fee for electricity connections, although supply was uncertain and erratic.

“The DDC members could offer nothing to the youth, except the prospect of jail. Many stood arrested, amongst whom many remained untraced with Councillors given no assistance in tracing their whereabouts. All felt unsafe,” said Parray.

In response to this, the CCG demanded that DDC members be allowed to visit their constituencies and that the district bureaucracy be made accountable to the DDC. Further, the Delimitation Commission offices should be shifted to Jammu and Kashmir from Delhi so that people can easily access the place.

Moreover, the CCG observed that the government needs to pay special attention to the physical safety and economic well-being of Kashmir’s minorities, especially the non-migrant Kashmiri Pandits, Sikhs and Shias who have lived peacefully in the Valley for centuries. Kashmiri Pandits pointed out that although they were continuously ignored from government plans, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) repeatedly uses their plight as an election argument.

Other persisting issues such as ceasefire along the LOC, friction between non-Kashmiri security officers and local communities and drug addiction worsen the situation in the valley. Support for militancy grows as security forces continue to blow up houses where militants are suspected to take shelter, even during severe winters.

CCG members said that the Indian government should restore the earlier policy of restraint and preventing ‘collateral damage’ during counter-insurgency operations by security forces. However, despite such “balm to wound” suggestions, members observed that the Kashmiri youth hate India, having witnessed violent protests on streets for the past decade and brutal action by police and security forces.

“When they see no options, they are willing to take up the gun. Even if they do not have access to guns as of now, locals point out, they have militancy on their mind,” said the report.

Members also noted that many youngsters considered the Indian flag atop government buildings as a sign of provocation while parents preferred to send their child abroad rather than to other parts of India.

“To bring about peace and restore the identity and honour of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, the central government would have to restore its statehood and start a dialogue for a fresh distribution of powers between the Centre and the State, keeping in mind the special history of the region’s accession to India,” concluded the report.

The entire report may be viewed here: 

Related:

Veteran Human rights lawyer IA Rehman passes away in Lahore
The ‘middle’ ground in Kashmir has been completely wiped out: Yashwant Sinha
In Kashmir, even ordinary citizens now speaking language of militants and separatists
Handling of electronic evidence by agencies a perversion of criminal justice: CCG

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Address people’s anguish to restore peace in J&K: CCG to GoI

Following a visit to the Valley, CCG members reported the state of Kashmiris and suggested fresh dialogues to address the pressing issues of Jammu and Kashmir.

17 Apr 2021

 

Address the sense of defeat and anger amongst Kashmiris by opening up democratic spaces for people, said the Concerned Citizens’ Group (CCG) on April 15, 2021 after its eighth visit to the Valley.

Following a short visit to the region between March 30 and April 2, members Yashwant Sinha, Sushobha Barve, Wajahat Habibullah and others reported on Kashmir’s condition in their eighth report about Kashmir. In it, the CCG noted Kashmiris do not have a space to express their dissent or criticism of government policies or police action on any platform.

“Journalism has been virtually criminalised. No protests by civil society are allowed, nor are rallies by political parties permitted. The police do not hesitate to summon journalists and ordinary citizens and even lock them up under the Public Safety Act,” said the report.

An intellectual speaking to CCG members said that the population that felt no ill-will towards India is “non-existent” nowadays. People said they were wary of news coming in from Delhi. Members said they have never previously heard so many people expressing hatred of Delhi and the Indian state as openly as during the last visit.

Following the Covid-19 pandemic and the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, the former state has been in a state of double lockdown. Locals believe that the pandemic that has not caused Kashmir-specific problems will eventually pass. Businesses are slowly recovering as the tourism industry revives, although small businesses still struggle to stay afloat.

However, Kashmiris still question the Modi-government's move of altering the relation between India and Jammu and Kashmir.

“Since August 2019 there have been changes in the administrative structure of the bifurcated Jammu and Kashmir. Old political parties are sought to be dismantled and the formation of new ones is being facilitated by Delhi. It is not clear whether Kashmir will resist the changes being imposed on it or accept them with resignation. The local political leadership is either silent or being forced into silence for fear of the Indian state,” said the report.

Moreover, locals expressed an overwhelming sense of despondency that there are no significant voices in India who can speak for them or offer resistance to what has happened to them. They also tell CCG members that they felt powerless when considering the strength of those who brought about these changes in Jammu and Kashmir. Citizens also hesitated to speak about other major protests in the country such as the farmers’ agitation or the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests because they feel that their issues will get drowned in the larger ones encompassing India.

“We don’t have leaders just as India does not have leaders who have a well thought out critique of the RSS and the BJP and who can lead the people against their designs,” a Kashmiri public intellectual summed up the dilemma.

A business leader in the area also said, Kashmiris were carefully watching communal tensions and conflagrations in mainland India such as the treatment of Muslims to understand their own plight. Beef-related lynching, cow politics and the so-called ‘Love Jihad’ laws, police violence on Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim Universities’ campuses, anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests and the wanton use of NSA against protestors made Kashmiris cautious about Indian democracy.

To allay some of these concerns, the CCG recommended that civil society organisations be allowed to hold meetings, seminars, and discussions giving people a platform to vent their emotions and relieve the psychological pressure on them. It also suggested that the Indian government not impose artificial political processes on Kashmiris that are bereft of any democratic muscle. The CCG said national Opposition political parties should be able to visit Kashmir, move around freely and meet local political leaders and civil society actors.

The local political collective People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) already expressed difficulties in organising a full-fledged Secretariat and a multi-layered structure, both of which are necessary to strengthen its foundational objectives. At the district-level, the CCG observed that people were moved by PAGD’s resolve to protect the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.

During District Development Councils (DDC) elections, people supported the collective. However, meeting with DDC Chairman Mohammed Afzal Parray at the Chowalgam Rest House in Kulgam on April 1 revealed that security personnel prevented Elected Councillors from meeting the public. They were all kept cooped up in a local hotel and repeatedly humiliated by officials for facilities like transport and security, which they were assured was to be provided by the Police Control Room (PCR). Meanwhile, the public, including Councillors, were expected to pay the full fee for electricity connections, although supply was uncertain and erratic.

“The DDC members could offer nothing to the youth, except the prospect of jail. Many stood arrested, amongst whom many remained untraced with Councillors given no assistance in tracing their whereabouts. All felt unsafe,” said Parray.

In response to this, the CCG demanded that DDC members be allowed to visit their constituencies and that the district bureaucracy be made accountable to the DDC. Further, the Delimitation Commission offices should be shifted to Jammu and Kashmir from Delhi so that people can easily access the place.

Moreover, the CCG observed that the government needs to pay special attention to the physical safety and economic well-being of Kashmir’s minorities, especially the non-migrant Kashmiri Pandits, Sikhs and Shias who have lived peacefully in the Valley for centuries. Kashmiri Pandits pointed out that although they were continuously ignored from government plans, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) repeatedly uses their plight as an election argument.

Other persisting issues such as ceasefire along the LOC, friction between non-Kashmiri security officers and local communities and drug addiction worsen the situation in the valley. Support for militancy grows as security forces continue to blow up houses where militants are suspected to take shelter, even during severe winters.

CCG members said that the Indian government should restore the earlier policy of restraint and preventing ‘collateral damage’ during counter-insurgency operations by security forces. However, despite such “balm to wound” suggestions, members observed that the Kashmiri youth hate India, having witnessed violent protests on streets for the past decade and brutal action by police and security forces.

“When they see no options, they are willing to take up the gun. Even if they do not have access to guns as of now, locals point out, they have militancy on their mind,” said the report.

Members also noted that many youngsters considered the Indian flag atop government buildings as a sign of provocation while parents preferred to send their child abroad rather than to other parts of India.

“To bring about peace and restore the identity and honour of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, the central government would have to restore its statehood and start a dialogue for a fresh distribution of powers between the Centre and the State, keeping in mind the special history of the region’s accession to India,” concluded the report.

Related:

Veteran Human rights lawyer IA Rehman passes away in Lahore
The ‘middle’ ground in Kashmir has been completely wiped out: Yashwant Sinha
In Kashmir, even ordinary citizens now speaking language of militants and separatists
Handling of electronic evidence by agencies a perversion of criminal justice: CCG

Address people’s anguish to restore peace in J&K: CCG to GoI

Following a visit to the Valley, CCG members reported the state of Kashmiris and suggested fresh dialogues to address the pressing issues of Jammu and Kashmir.

 

Address the sense of defeat and anger amongst Kashmiris by opening up democratic spaces for people, said the Concerned Citizens’ Group (CCG) on April 15, 2021 after its eighth visit to the Valley.

Following a short visit to the region between March 30 and April 2, members Yashwant Sinha, Sushobha Barve, Wajahat Habibullah and others reported on Kashmir’s condition in their eighth report about Kashmir. In it, the CCG noted Kashmiris do not have a space to express their dissent or criticism of government policies or police action on any platform.

“Journalism has been virtually criminalised. No protests by civil society are allowed, nor are rallies by political parties permitted. The police do not hesitate to summon journalists and ordinary citizens and even lock them up under the Public Safety Act,” said the report.

An intellectual speaking to CCG members said that the population that felt no ill-will towards India is “non-existent” nowadays. People said they were wary of news coming in from Delhi. Members said they have never previously heard so many people expressing hatred of Delhi and the Indian state as openly as during the last visit.

Following the Covid-19 pandemic and the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, the former state has been in a state of double lockdown. Locals believe that the pandemic that has not caused Kashmir-specific problems will eventually pass. Businesses are slowly recovering as the tourism industry revives, although small businesses still struggle to stay afloat.

However, Kashmiris still question the Modi-government's move of altering the relation between India and Jammu and Kashmir.

“Since August 2019 there have been changes in the administrative structure of the bifurcated Jammu and Kashmir. Old political parties are sought to be dismantled and the formation of new ones is being facilitated by Delhi. It is not clear whether Kashmir will resist the changes being imposed on it or accept them with resignation. The local political leadership is either silent or being forced into silence for fear of the Indian state,” said the report.

Moreover, locals expressed an overwhelming sense of despondency that there are no significant voices in India who can speak for them or offer resistance to what has happened to them. They also tell CCG members that they felt powerless when considering the strength of those who brought about these changes in Jammu and Kashmir. Citizens also hesitated to speak about other major protests in the country such as the farmers’ agitation or the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests because they feel that their issues will get drowned in the larger ones encompassing India.

“We don’t have leaders just as India does not have leaders who have a well thought out critique of the RSS and the BJP and who can lead the people against their designs,” a Kashmiri public intellectual summed up the dilemma.

A business leader in the area also said, Kashmiris were carefully watching communal tensions and conflagrations in mainland India such as the treatment of Muslims to understand their own plight. Beef-related lynching, cow politics and the so-called ‘Love Jihad’ laws, police violence on Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim Universities’ campuses, anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests and the wanton use of NSA against protestors made Kashmiris cautious about Indian democracy.

To allay some of these concerns, the CCG recommended that civil society organisations be allowed to hold meetings, seminars, and discussions giving people a platform to vent their emotions and relieve the psychological pressure on them. It also suggested that the Indian government not impose artificial political processes on Kashmiris that are bereft of any democratic muscle. The CCG said national Opposition political parties should be able to visit Kashmir, move around freely and meet local political leaders and civil society actors.

The local political collective People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) already expressed difficulties in organising a full-fledged Secretariat and a multi-layered structure, both of which are necessary to strengthen its foundational objectives. At the district-level, the CCG observed that people were moved by PAGD’s resolve to protect the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.

During District Development Councils (DDC) elections, people supported the collective. However, meeting with DDC Chairman Mohammed Afzal Parray at the Chowalgam Rest House in Kulgam on April 1 revealed that security personnel prevented Elected Councillors from meeting the public. They were all kept cooped up in a local hotel and repeatedly humiliated by officials for facilities like transport and security, which they were assured was to be provided by the Police Control Room (PCR). Meanwhile, the public, including Councillors, were expected to pay the full fee for electricity connections, although supply was uncertain and erratic.

“The DDC members could offer nothing to the youth, except the prospect of jail. Many stood arrested, amongst whom many remained untraced with Councillors given no assistance in tracing their whereabouts. All felt unsafe,” said Parray.

In response to this, the CCG demanded that DDC members be allowed to visit their constituencies and that the district bureaucracy be made accountable to the DDC. Further, the Delimitation Commission offices should be shifted to Jammu and Kashmir from Delhi so that people can easily access the place.

Moreover, the CCG observed that the government needs to pay special attention to the physical safety and economic well-being of Kashmir’s minorities, especially the non-migrant Kashmiri Pandits, Sikhs and Shias who have lived peacefully in the Valley for centuries. Kashmiri Pandits pointed out that although they were continuously ignored from government plans, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) repeatedly uses their plight as an election argument.

Other persisting issues such as ceasefire along the LOC, friction between non-Kashmiri security officers and local communities and drug addiction worsen the situation in the valley. Support for militancy grows as security forces continue to blow up houses where militants are suspected to take shelter, even during severe winters.

CCG members said that the Indian government should restore the earlier policy of restraint and preventing ‘collateral damage’ during counter-insurgency operations by security forces. However, despite such “balm to wound” suggestions, members observed that the Kashmiri youth hate India, having witnessed violent protests on streets for the past decade and brutal action by police and security forces.

“When they see no options, they are willing to take up the gun. Even if they do not have access to guns as of now, locals point out, they have militancy on their mind,” said the report.

Members also noted that many youngsters considered the Indian flag atop government buildings as a sign of provocation while parents preferred to send their child abroad rather than to other parts of India.

“To bring about peace and restore the identity and honour of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, the central government would have to restore its statehood and start a dialogue for a fresh distribution of powers between the Centre and the State, keeping in mind the special history of the region’s accession to India,” concluded the report.

Related:

Veteran Human rights lawyer IA Rehman passes away in Lahore
The ‘middle’ ground in Kashmir has been completely wiped out: Yashwant Sinha
In Kashmir, even ordinary citizens now speaking language of militants and separatists
Handling of electronic evidence by agencies a perversion of criminal justice: CCG

Related Articles


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Battleground Bengal: EC denies request to club remaining phases, reduces campaigning hours

In wake of Covid surge, smaller meetings advised instead of big rallies; decision after all-party meeting

17 Apr 2021

Image Courtesy:aninews.in

After an all-party meeting with the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) in West Bengal yesterday, the Election Commission has banned all campaign activities between 7 P.M and 10 A.M. Parties cannot conduct rallies, hold nukkad sabhas (street-corner meetings), or even cultural performances like street plays during this period.

The decision was taken in wake of the second surge of Covid-19 in the country and the possibility of it spreading due to interpersonal contact during campaigning in the state where four phases of polling have already taken place, and four are remaining.

The demand for clubbing phases was made by parties such as the Trinamool Congress (TMC), the Congress as well as some independents following cases where candidates had contracted the virus. Rezaul Haque, the Congress candidate from the Murshidabad seat of Samserganj, has already succumbed to the disease. Meanwhile, three other electoral hopefuls are suffering from the infection. According to The Telegraph, RSP’s Jangipur (Murshidabad) candidate Pradip Nandy and Trinamul’s Goalpokhor (North Dinajpur) candidate Gulam Rabbani and Jalpaiguri nominee P.K. Burma, are all Covid positive.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had called for clubbing together at least the last two phases of the election. She had tweeted on April 15, “Amid an ongoing pandemic, we firmly opposed @ECISVEEP's decision to conduct WB polls in 8 phases. Now, in view of the huge surge in #COVID19 cases, I urge the ECI to consider holding the remaining phases in ONE go. This will protect the people from further exposure to #COVID19.”

But the BJP was opposed to this. They had also written to the CEO saying, “The right to campaign available to candidates irrespective of their affiliation to parties shall be protected. The said right already exercised by more than 60% of the candidates should also be provided to the remaining candidates to ensure equality.”

It is noteworthy that a majority of the constituencies that are going to polls in these last two phases are strongholds of the Trinamool Congress (TMC). While phase 7 will see polling in Malda Part I, Kolkata South, Murshidabad Part I, West Bardhaman Part and Dakshin Dinajpur, phase 8 will see polling in Malda Part II, Kolkata North, Murshidabad Part II and Birbhum. Malda and Murshidabad have seen instances of communal conflagration in the past, all political rivals are campaigning hard in these areas.

As we have seen in the parliamentary elections, the support for the Bharatiya Janata Party begins to fade as one heads south along the Bangladesh border. It remains to be seen if secular parties manage to hold on to these traditional bastions in wake of one of BJP's most aggressive state election campaigns.

Related:

Battleground Bengal: Demand for clubbing phases after surge in Covid cases
WB post poll analysis: Saffron fades as one heads South along the Bangladesh border
Elections underway, CBI, ED send notice to TMC leader
Battleground Bengal: EC bars Dilip Ghosh from campaigning for 24 hours

Battleground Bengal: EC denies request to club remaining phases, reduces campaigning hours

In wake of Covid surge, smaller meetings advised instead of big rallies; decision after all-party meeting

Image Courtesy:aninews.in

After an all-party meeting with the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) in West Bengal yesterday, the Election Commission has banned all campaign activities between 7 P.M and 10 A.M. Parties cannot conduct rallies, hold nukkad sabhas (street-corner meetings), or even cultural performances like street plays during this period.

The decision was taken in wake of the second surge of Covid-19 in the country and the possibility of it spreading due to interpersonal contact during campaigning in the state where four phases of polling have already taken place, and four are remaining.

The demand for clubbing phases was made by parties such as the Trinamool Congress (TMC), the Congress as well as some independents following cases where candidates had contracted the virus. Rezaul Haque, the Congress candidate from the Murshidabad seat of Samserganj, has already succumbed to the disease. Meanwhile, three other electoral hopefuls are suffering from the infection. According to The Telegraph, RSP’s Jangipur (Murshidabad) candidate Pradip Nandy and Trinamul’s Goalpokhor (North Dinajpur) candidate Gulam Rabbani and Jalpaiguri nominee P.K. Burma, are all Covid positive.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had called for clubbing together at least the last two phases of the election. She had tweeted on April 15, “Amid an ongoing pandemic, we firmly opposed @ECISVEEP's decision to conduct WB polls in 8 phases. Now, in view of the huge surge in #COVID19 cases, I urge the ECI to consider holding the remaining phases in ONE go. This will protect the people from further exposure to #COVID19.”

But the BJP was opposed to this. They had also written to the CEO saying, “The right to campaign available to candidates irrespective of their affiliation to parties shall be protected. The said right already exercised by more than 60% of the candidates should also be provided to the remaining candidates to ensure equality.”

It is noteworthy that a majority of the constituencies that are going to polls in these last two phases are strongholds of the Trinamool Congress (TMC). While phase 7 will see polling in Malda Part I, Kolkata South, Murshidabad Part I, West Bardhaman Part and Dakshin Dinajpur, phase 8 will see polling in Malda Part II, Kolkata North, Murshidabad Part II and Birbhum. Malda and Murshidabad have seen instances of communal conflagration in the past, all political rivals are campaigning hard in these areas.

As we have seen in the parliamentary elections, the support for the Bharatiya Janata Party begins to fade as one heads south along the Bangladesh border. It remains to be seen if secular parties manage to hold on to these traditional bastions in wake of one of BJP's most aggressive state election campaigns.

Related:

Battleground Bengal: Demand for clubbing phases after surge in Covid cases
WB post poll analysis: Saffron fades as one heads South along the Bangladesh border
Elections underway, CBI, ED send notice to TMC leader
Battleground Bengal: EC bars Dilip Ghosh from campaigning for 24 hours

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Battleground Bengal: Demand for clubbing phases after surge in Covid cases

Matter likely to be brought up at all-party meeting with EC today to club phases 7 and 8

16 Apr 2021

Mamata

The Covid-19 pandemic is showing no signs of dissipating, and the impact is being felt nationwide with over a lakh new cases being reported every day for a few weeks now. But now the impact is also being felt in West Bengal where the first four phases of the Assembly Election have concluded, but there are four more phases to go.

Rezaul Haque, the Congress candidate from the Murshidabad seat of Samserganj, has already succumbed to the disease. Meanwhile, three other electoral hopefuls are suffering from the infection. According to The Telegraph, RSP’s Jangipur (Murshidabad) candidate Pradip Nandy and Trinamul’s Goalpokhor (North Dinajpur) candidate Gulam Rabbani and Jalpaiguri nominee P.K. Burma, are all Covid positive.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has therefore called for clubbing together at least the last two phases of the election. Last evening, she tweeted, “Amid an ongoing pandemic, we firmly opposed @ECISVEEP's decision to conduct WB polls in 8 phases. Now, in view of the huge surge in #COVID19 cases, I urge the ECI to consider holding the remaining phases in ONE go. This will protect the people from further exposure to #COVID19.”

 

 

It is noteworthy that phase 5 is all set to take place tomorrow, April 17 and Phase 6 is scheduled for April 22. The demand to club phases is in connection with phases 7 and 8. While phase 7 is scheduled to take place on April 26, phase 8 is scheduled for April 29. 

It is noteworthy that a majority of the constituencies that are going to polls in these last two phases are strongholds of the Trinamool Congress (TMC). While phase 7 will see polling in Malda Part I, Kolkata South, Murshidabad Part I, West Bardhaman Part and Dakshin Dinajpur, phase 8 will see polling in Malda Part II, Kolkata North, Murshidabad Part II and Birbhum. Malda and Mushidabad have seen instances of communal conflagration in the past, all political rivals are campaigning hard in these areas.

As we have seen in the parliamentary elections, the support for the Bharatiya Janata Party begins to fade as one heads south along the Bangladesh border. It remains to be seen if secular parties manage to hold on to these traditional bastions in wake of one of BJP's most aggressive state election campaigns.

Understandably the BJP is against the move to club the last few phases and has communicated as much to the Chief Electoral Officer in a letter saying that the remaining phases can be conducted with adequate adherence to Covid protocol, and that clubbing the phases would be unfair to candidates who may not find adequate time for campaigning. 

The letter says, "The right to campaign available to candidates irrespective of their affiliation to parties shall be protected. The said right already exercised by more than 60% of the candidates should also be provided to the remaining candidates to ensure equality." The letter goes on to say, "By 17th April, the Commission would have effectively protected the rights of 61% of the State. The State and its people expect that the similar protection to the rights of the blalance 39% of the Constituencies would also be guaranteed by the Commission."

The entire letter may be read here: 

bjp

bjp

bjp

 

 

 

Related:

WB post poll analysis: Saffron fades as one heads South along the Bangladesh border

Elections underway, CBI, ED send notice to TMC leader

Battleground Bengal: EC bars Dilip Ghosh from campaigning for 24 hours

Battleground Bengal: Demand for clubbing phases after surge in Covid cases

Matter likely to be brought up at all-party meeting with EC today to club phases 7 and 8

Mamata

The Covid-19 pandemic is showing no signs of dissipating, and the impact is being felt nationwide with over a lakh new cases being reported every day for a few weeks now. But now the impact is also being felt in West Bengal where the first four phases of the Assembly Election have concluded, but there are four more phases to go.

Rezaul Haque, the Congress candidate from the Murshidabad seat of Samserganj, has already succumbed to the disease. Meanwhile, three other electoral hopefuls are suffering from the infection. According to The Telegraph, RSP’s Jangipur (Murshidabad) candidate Pradip Nandy and Trinamul’s Goalpokhor (North Dinajpur) candidate Gulam Rabbani and Jalpaiguri nominee P.K. Burma, are all Covid positive.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has therefore called for clubbing together at least the last two phases of the election. Last evening, she tweeted, “Amid an ongoing pandemic, we firmly opposed @ECISVEEP's decision to conduct WB polls in 8 phases. Now, in view of the huge surge in #COVID19 cases, I urge the ECI to consider holding the remaining phases in ONE go. This will protect the people from further exposure to #COVID19.”

 

 

It is noteworthy that phase 5 is all set to take place tomorrow, April 17 and Phase 6 is scheduled for April 22. The demand to club phases is in connection with phases 7 and 8. While phase 7 is scheduled to take place on April 26, phase 8 is scheduled for April 29. 

It is noteworthy that a majority of the constituencies that are going to polls in these last two phases are strongholds of the Trinamool Congress (TMC). While phase 7 will see polling in Malda Part I, Kolkata South, Murshidabad Part I, West Bardhaman Part and Dakshin Dinajpur, phase 8 will see polling in Malda Part II, Kolkata North, Murshidabad Part II and Birbhum. Malda and Mushidabad have seen instances of communal conflagration in the past, all political rivals are campaigning hard in these areas.

As we have seen in the parliamentary elections, the support for the Bharatiya Janata Party begins to fade as one heads south along the Bangladesh border. It remains to be seen if secular parties manage to hold on to these traditional bastions in wake of one of BJP's most aggressive state election campaigns.

Understandably the BJP is against the move to club the last few phases and has communicated as much to the Chief Electoral Officer in a letter saying that the remaining phases can be conducted with adequate adherence to Covid protocol, and that clubbing the phases would be unfair to candidates who may not find adequate time for campaigning. 

The letter says, "The right to campaign available to candidates irrespective of their affiliation to parties shall be protected. The said right already exercised by more than 60% of the candidates should also be provided to the remaining candidates to ensure equality." The letter goes on to say, "By 17th April, the Commission would have effectively protected the rights of 61% of the State. The State and its people expect that the similar protection to the rights of the blalance 39% of the Constituencies would also be guaranteed by the Commission."

The entire letter may be read here: 

bjp

bjp

bjp

 

 

 

Related:

WB post poll analysis: Saffron fades as one heads South along the Bangladesh border

Elections underway, CBI, ED send notice to TMC leader

Battleground Bengal: EC bars Dilip Ghosh from campaigning for 24 hours

Related Articles


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Elections underway, CBI, ED send notice to TMC leader

Matter relates to the Rs 500 crore I-Core ponzi scam, where the chairman of the group was arrested six years ago

16 Apr 2021

Partha Chatterjee

In yet another example of how the Central regime is allegedly using its resources to intimidate political rivals, two central agencies: the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) have now served notice to Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Partha Chatterjee.

The timing of the notice is curious though as I-Core’s chairman Anukul Maiti had been arrested in the case on April 16, 2016.

Chatterjee is a senior minister in the West Bengal government and holds the parliamentary affairs, school education and higher education portfolios in the state where four phases of Assembly elections have concluded and four more are coming up. Chatterjee contested the Assembly elections from the Behala West constituency where polling took place on April 10.

The notices are in connection with the Rs 500 crore ponzi scheme allegedly run by the I-Core group. While the CBI is investigating the chit-fund scam, the ED is probing the money laundering element to the case.

The I-Core ponzi scam was almost as high profile as the Saradha and Rose Valley scams, though lesser in monetary value. SabrangIndia had previously reported how the CBI began vigorously reinvesting in the Saradha case in July 2020 when it filed as many as 30 First Information Reports (FIR) in connection with the case. FIRs were reportedly filed for frauds ranging from Rs 5,000 to Rs 1 crore.

It is also noteworthy that TMC leaders had been implicated in those cases as well, and some of them switched sides to the BJP, allegedly to get a clean chit. These include Mukul Roy and Mithun Chakraborty.

Related:

CBI reinvests vigorously in WB chit-fund case investigations

Saradha scam: CBI raids six locations in Mumbai

Elections underway, CBI, ED send notice to TMC leader

Matter relates to the Rs 500 crore I-Core ponzi scam, where the chairman of the group was arrested six years ago

Partha Chatterjee

In yet another example of how the Central regime is allegedly using its resources to intimidate political rivals, two central agencies: the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) have now served notice to Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Partha Chatterjee.

The timing of the notice is curious though as I-Core’s chairman Anukul Maiti had been arrested in the case on April 16, 2016.

Chatterjee is a senior minister in the West Bengal government and holds the parliamentary affairs, school education and higher education portfolios in the state where four phases of Assembly elections have concluded and four more are coming up. Chatterjee contested the Assembly elections from the Behala West constituency where polling took place on April 10.

The notices are in connection with the Rs 500 crore ponzi scheme allegedly run by the I-Core group. While the CBI is investigating the chit-fund scam, the ED is probing the money laundering element to the case.

The I-Core ponzi scam was almost as high profile as the Saradha and Rose Valley scams, though lesser in monetary value. SabrangIndia had previously reported how the CBI began vigorously reinvesting in the Saradha case in July 2020 when it filed as many as 30 First Information Reports (FIR) in connection with the case. FIRs were reportedly filed for frauds ranging from Rs 5,000 to Rs 1 crore.

It is also noteworthy that TMC leaders had been implicated in those cases as well, and some of them switched sides to the BJP, allegedly to get a clean chit. These include Mukul Roy and Mithun Chakraborty.

Related:

CBI reinvests vigorously in WB chit-fund case investigations

Saradha scam: CBI raids six locations in Mumbai

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‘I challenge them to kill me’ : Kabir Suman reacts to Sitalkuchi killings

Sabrangindia 16 Apr 2021

Renowned poet and musician Kabir Suman has reacted angrily to the ghastly Sitalkuchi killings by railing against BJP-RSS and ‘those whose guns are paid for by the taxpayers’. Hear the bard speak his heart out on the Bengali New Year’s Day.

‘I challenge them to kill me’ : Kabir Suman reacts to Sitalkuchi killings

Renowned poet and musician Kabir Suman has reacted angrily to the ghastly Sitalkuchi killings by railing against BJP-RSS and ‘those whose guns are paid for by the taxpayers’. Hear the bard speak his heart out on the Bengali New Year’s Day.

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Battleground Bengal: EC bars Dilip Ghosh from campaigning for 24 hours

After letting off other BJP bigwigs like Suvendu Adhikari with a light rap on the wrists for communal statements, perhaps EC’s action against the Bengal BJP chief is a face-saving move

16 Apr 2021

Dilip ghosh

The Election Commission (EC) has finally taken some real action against Dilip Ghosh, the motor-mouth president of the West Bengal unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The serial hate offender has a history of making communally charged and even misogynistic statements.

But he had crossed a line when he openly threatened a repeat of Sitalkuchi firing when he said, “If someone crosses his limits then you have seen what happened in Sitalkuchi. There will be Sitalkuchi in several places.”

What happened in Sitalkuchi?

On April 10, during the phase four of the Assembly elections, five people were killed in two separate incidents in Sitalkuchi in Cooch Behar district. While four people were killed when paramilitary forces opened fire at polling booth number 126 in Amtali, another young man was killed at booth number 85 in Panthauli, also in Sitalkuchi. Following the violence, the Election Commission not only suspended voting in the area, but also banned entry of political leaders for 72 hours in Cooch Behar district that comprises nine Assembly constituencies.

EC’s disproportionate action against TMC

But the EC that has been repeatedly drawing scathing criticism for allegedly not taking strict action against BJP members despite their shocking behaviour, at least not on the scale or degree of its actions against members of the Trinamool Congress (TMC).

The EC had not only issued last minute orders to transfer key policemen and bureaucrats deemed close to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, it had in an unprecedented move barred a sitting chief minister from campaigning for 24 hours. This after issuing two notices to Banerjee in a span on just a few hours on April 8; one for allegedly asking Muslim voters to ensure their vote does not get split and the other for allegedly advising women to gherao (surround) personnel of paramilitary forces if they tried to disrupt voting.

In fact, at one point it appeared that the EC was targeting the TMC, allegedly at the central regime’s behest, and this called into question the institution’s autonomy.

Face-saving measures begin

Then in a series of what appear to be face saving measures, the EC, on April 13, banned BJP leader Rahul Sinha from campaigning for 48 hours for saying, “Not four, eight people should have been shot dead in Sitalkuchi.” At that time, it only issued notice to Dilip Ghosh for his aforementioned open threat. Meanwhile, Mamta Banerjee’s bete noir Suvendu Adhikari was let off the hook for his deeply communal speech where he called Mamata Banerjee “Begum” and told voters that if she were voted back to power, she will “tunr West Bengal into mini-Pakistan”. Thus, it appeared that still, the EC was taking one step forward and two steps backward. That is until now.

The EC’s order against Ghosh has become effective on the evening of April 15 and states that Ghosh made "highly provocative and inciteful remarks which could adversely impact law and order thereby adversely affecting the election process". 

Ghosh had then tried to allegedly justify his shocking statement. According to a National Herald report, Ghosh claimed that as the state party president, it was his solemn duty to stand by his party workers and encourage voters to cast the ballot without fear, and that it was never his intention to make any statement which would be in contravention of the model code, the electoral laws or the Indian Penal Code.
 

Battleground Bengal: EC bars Dilip Ghosh from campaigning for 24 hours

After letting off other BJP bigwigs like Suvendu Adhikari with a light rap on the wrists for communal statements, perhaps EC’s action against the Bengal BJP chief is a face-saving move

Dilip ghosh

The Election Commission (EC) has finally taken some real action against Dilip Ghosh, the motor-mouth president of the West Bengal unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The serial hate offender has a history of making communally charged and even misogynistic statements.

But he had crossed a line when he openly threatened a repeat of Sitalkuchi firing when he said, “If someone crosses his limits then you have seen what happened in Sitalkuchi. There will be Sitalkuchi in several places.”

What happened in Sitalkuchi?

On April 10, during the phase four of the Assembly elections, five people were killed in two separate incidents in Sitalkuchi in Cooch Behar district. While four people were killed when paramilitary forces opened fire at polling booth number 126 in Amtali, another young man was killed at booth number 85 in Panthauli, also in Sitalkuchi. Following the violence, the Election Commission not only suspended voting in the area, but also banned entry of political leaders for 72 hours in Cooch Behar district that comprises nine Assembly constituencies.

EC’s disproportionate action against TMC

But the EC that has been repeatedly drawing scathing criticism for allegedly not taking strict action against BJP members despite their shocking behaviour, at least not on the scale or degree of its actions against members of the Trinamool Congress (TMC).

The EC had not only issued last minute orders to transfer key policemen and bureaucrats deemed close to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, it had in an unprecedented move barred a sitting chief minister from campaigning for 24 hours. This after issuing two notices to Banerjee in a span on just a few hours on April 8; one for allegedly asking Muslim voters to ensure their vote does not get split and the other for allegedly advising women to gherao (surround) personnel of paramilitary forces if they tried to disrupt voting.

In fact, at one point it appeared that the EC was targeting the TMC, allegedly at the central regime’s behest, and this called into question the institution’s autonomy.

Face-saving measures begin

Then in a series of what appear to be face saving measures, the EC, on April 13, banned BJP leader Rahul Sinha from campaigning for 48 hours for saying, “Not four, eight people should have been shot dead in Sitalkuchi.” At that time, it only issued notice to Dilip Ghosh for his aforementioned open threat. Meanwhile, Mamta Banerjee’s bete noir Suvendu Adhikari was let off the hook for his deeply communal speech where he called Mamata Banerjee “Begum” and told voters that if she were voted back to power, she will “tunr West Bengal into mini-Pakistan”. Thus, it appeared that still, the EC was taking one step forward and two steps backward. That is until now.

The EC’s order against Ghosh has become effective on the evening of April 15 and states that Ghosh made "highly provocative and inciteful remarks which could adversely impact law and order thereby adversely affecting the election process". 

Ghosh had then tried to allegedly justify his shocking statement. According to a National Herald report, Ghosh claimed that as the state party president, it was his solemn duty to stand by his party workers and encourage voters to cast the ballot without fear, and that it was never his intention to make any statement which would be in contravention of the model code, the electoral laws or the Indian Penal Code.
 

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Battleground Bengal: Not a Cakewalk for Modi or Mamata in Matua Land

15 Apr 2021

Mathua

This is not 2019 and this is not the Lok Sabha elections. And it’s not hunky dory for the BJP anymore.

There is no apparent wave in its favour which will clean sweep all its opposition into the Bay of Bengal. Neither here in Bongaon, nor in the rest of the Bengal, though the BJP certainly has its share of committed, loyalist, or, silent and floating voters, including those who have been polarized, those who hate the Trinamool Congress for various reasons, and those who want some kind of change at the top. However, it is still not clear if that would help them cross the 100 mark in the 2021 assembly. Seasoned journalists say that even 80 could be tough.

Indeed, in the Bongaon region of 24 North Paragana, which they considered to be their bastion since 2019, there are clear signs of an uncanny desperation in the BJP camp, especially since it dumped the CAA promise following nation-wide protests, especially in Assam and the North-east, much to the anger of the Matua community in West Bengal . The BJP had in 2019 dangled the CAA to the restless community as a seductive lollypop, many of whom have migrated in streams to India from Bangladesh since after Partition in 1947, the Bangladesh war of liberation in 1971, and in the 1980s and thereafter. Since then, there is an underlying longing for the idea of a confirmed, legitimate citizenship, especially since the NRC phobia was unleashed in Assam. The metaphor of ‘termites’ floated by the Union home minister, did not help either.

Despite possessing photo identity cards, among other valid documents, many of them still want further proof of citizenship. This was especially triggered and activated by the BJP after it floated the CAA (2019). Now that the BJP has reneged on the CAA promise, apparently so, many in the community feel betrayed. The promise that it will be resurrected and was suspended due to the pandemic does not seem to hold on the ground. There is a feeling of betrayal.

When asked, why do they want the CAA when they have all the documents, including voter identity cards, Aadhar cards, even passports etc -- many of them seem to become tight-lipped and at a loss for an answer. It’s as if they want to say that, please, this is not a quiz I want to join!

Others are more forthright. When we have all the documents, what is the need for a CAA, they say. It’s a BJP game, they seem to be sure.

The Matuas, mostly landless labourers and sharecroppers in East and West Bengal, were oppressed Dalits in the colonial era and after. They are a highly skilled, determined and cohesive community, legendary for their crafts, wood work, as florists and vegetable farmers, and most crucially as brilliant agriculturalists, extremely hardworking, productive and resilient. Social reforms and collective awareness over the years has only strengthened their skills and dignity as a community.

Indeed, with education coming their way in recent times, they seem to be excelling at multiple levels with high literacy and exalted levels of aspirations and ambitions. They are truly and originally a stoic and secular community who want to have a share of the fundamental rights under the Indian Constitution, a considerable pie in the development work, and not in subjugation, but in full enlightenment, with social reforms and empowerment, primary and higher education, economic upliftment, rapid mobility towards modernity and success, and, of course, political power.  More than that, they don’t want to be branded or treated as refugees. They want full and complete status as dignified citizens of India,

Since then, the BJP has been trapped in a Catch-22 scenario because the community remains largely secular and tolerant despite the BJP’s transparently divisive politics, their past persecution in Bangladesh, and their collective difficulties in India. At the great festival in early April at Thakurbari, where the Matuas collect from all over Bengal, all communities welcome them and open their doors and hearts for them, Muslims, Christians, other Hindu communities, including the upper caste communities. Besides, not all Namashudras, who are equally resilient, hardworking and skilled, are Matuas, and, yet, there is a shared symphony between them, despite some social, cultural and spiritual differences. There is no apparent Hindutva working among within the community as an ideology, it seems.

As Subroto Biswas, an encyclopedia on the history of Thakurbari, says, “You need not be a Matua to be a Matua. It’s a kind of Matutva… metein jaba… to be lost in a spiritual and humanist trance. You can be a Matua without being a Matua.”

Even while he says this, long processions of dancing men, women and youngsters pass by, with drums, songs and gulaal, singing Bolo Hari, Hari Bol, very similar to the bhakti/vaishnav tradition of the followers of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, but very different and original in this specific case because they don’t have Gods, nor temples of Hindu gods. All their temples at Thakurbari or at other places in Thakurnagar are simple structures with no paraphernalia or ritualism – devoted to their social reformer icons – all human beings, inheritors of the Thakurbaris, the symbols of their unity, identity, empowerment, worship, song and dance.

Mothers touch the stairs of one such temple dedicated to a social reformer, and touch their fingers on the faces and heads of their children as blessing. Women do shastaang pronama at the temples. Others sing and dance in abandon. But, there are no Hindu rituals.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee might be upping the ante to woo the crucial Matua community in the Bongaon subdivision of North 24 Paragana, and the nearby districts, like Nadia, with Thakurnagar as its epicenter, but the ground situation is fluid and open to interpretation and change. As of now, it’s not going to be a comfortable cake walk for either the BJP, which won handsomely in the last Lok Sabha elections from here in 2019 with overwhelming support of the community, nor will it be an easy ride for the Trinamool Congress (TMC), even while the Left, which looked at this region as its once-upon-a-time bastion, might just about increase its vote percentage at the third position. This, locals say, will surely help the TMC.

Thakurnagar is the epicenter because the Thakurbari is located here. The Thakurbari is the second most important sacred and revered space for the 30 million strong Matua community in West Bengal, of which around 15 million could be legitimate voters. The first important sacred space for the community is at Orakandi in Bangladesh, earlier in East Pakistan, much earlier in East Bengal in undivided India under the British and before.

This is where Modi went on March 27, the day polling began in Bengal, to pay homage to the founder of the Matua Mahasangh, Harichand Thakur, when he went to Bangladesh recently. Predictably, Mamata Banerjee said that it was a clear violation of the model code of conduct – amounting to campaigning and wooing a community with shared historical and social links in a neighbouring country. Predictably, too, it had no impact on Modi, nor on the ‘neutrality’ of the Election Commission.

Matunga

Orakandi in district Gopalgunj is the birthplace of Harichand Thakur, who started the first social reform and enlightenment movement for the oppressed and landless Dalit/Namashudra community in East Bengal in early 19th century, followed by his son Guruchand Thakur, equally revered, and then his great grandson, Pramatha Ranjan Thakur (PR Thakur), a barrister, who later established Thakurbari as the never-centre of the community in India. Harichand Thakur established the Matua Mahasangha. PR Thakur was a member of the West Bengal assembly as a Congress candidate after winning the elections in 1962. This was a reserved seat for the scheduled caste community.

Significantly, the wives of PR Thakur and his great grandfather Harichand Thakur, Binapani Devi Thakur and Shantimata Thakur, were equal partners and visionaries in the radical social reforms movement and the educational, spiritual and political emancipation of the ‘Namashudra’ community of the Matuas in East and West Bengal, and are highly respected here. Their statues accompany their husbands in the temples. Significantly, after her husband’s death, Binapani Devi became the iconic figure-head of the community at Thakurbari, highly respected and revered, and was referred to as ‘Boro Ma’, Elder Mother.

She was especially close to Mamata Banerjee, who referred to ‘Boro Ma’ again with great respect and fondness in her speech recently late evening at Barasat after she was banned from doing public meetings by the Election Commission. Among other things, Mamata Banerjee said that she took care of the treatment of ‘Boro Ma’ for more than two decades, built the road to the Thakurbari, constructed new, modern structures around the sacred pond and around the temples of their icons, built the government college at Thakurbari in the name of PR Thakur, and is building an university, among other things, like providing cycles for girls, financial incentives for girl students, helping the farmers, health insurance for women etc. Indeed, even BJP supporters agree that all the development work here has been done by Mamata Banerjee, while she was the first leader to bestow them with a sense of collective dignity and identity, until the BJP entered the scene.

The social reform movement among the Matuas, which began in the 19th century and continued after the British era, should also be seen in the backdrop of the pioneering work done by Jogendra Nath Mandal in Bengal under colonial rule, especially in the political and social empowerment of Dalits and other oppressed communities in Bengal, and thereby sending a signal to the rest of India. This was much earlier than Dr BR Ambedkar, the founder of the Indian Constitution and revolutionary intellectual, thinker, and emancipator, who created the theoretical and radical paradigm for Dalit emancipation in India. Sensing the unease, discomfort and hesitation of the top Congress leadership, Mandal persuaded Ambedkar to become a candidate for the Constituent Assembly from Bengal in 1946 with support from Dalits, Anglo Indians, the Muslim community and others. This was path-breaking mobilisation of the subaltern forces at that time. Mandal later became the first law and labour minister in independent Pakistan, but quit thereafter in disillusionment with the nature of secularism, among other issues, in 1950.

At the small temple dedicated to PR Thakur near the Thakurnagar railway station, again constructed by Mamata Banerjee, the priest, dressed in a blue shirt and trouser, says that no rituals are performed here. Hari bol on Thursdays and once in a month a big programme of songs and music with shared food. So, who is winning, the son of BJP’s Manjul Thakur, (the youngest son of PR Thakur), Subroto Thakur, or Narottam Biswas, the formidable candidate of the TMC, who traces his family lineage as very close associates of Harichand Thakur in Orakandi?

The priest, as usual, is tight-lipped. “Everyone here has his own mind. Both are equally respected,” he says.

This seems to be the guarded refrain around the town. PR Thakur’s eldest son, Kapil Thakur, was earlier an elected leader here from TMC. After his death, his wife, Mamata Thakur, became a TMC MP. Now, Manjul’s other son, Shantanu Thakur, is the BJP MP. The original clan is divided in the middle.

Others say, if the BJP was so confident of winning, why did Modi travel all the way to Bangladesh to pay homage to the Matua temple. “It was a clear sign of desperation,” they ask.

Says a sweets shop owner, very confident: “Well, both are respected here, and there is no social division or bitterness among their supporters. Besides, I am not from the Matua community, but, I, like others who are not Matuas, have respect for the Thakkurbari family. If you ask me, it’s a fifty-fifty scenario this time. A tough contest here at Gaighata, I tell you.”

To be concluded
 

 

(Photos by Snehasish Mistri)

 

Related:

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Battleground Bengal: Notes from Furfura Sharif and village bylanes

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Battleground Bengal: Lukewarm response to Modi rally at Brigade Ground

Battleground Bengal: Not a Cakewalk for Modi or Mamata in Matua Land

Mathua

This is not 2019 and this is not the Lok Sabha elections. And it’s not hunky dory for the BJP anymore.

There is no apparent wave in its favour which will clean sweep all its opposition into the Bay of Bengal. Neither here in Bongaon, nor in the rest of the Bengal, though the BJP certainly has its share of committed, loyalist, or, silent and floating voters, including those who have been polarized, those who hate the Trinamool Congress for various reasons, and those who want some kind of change at the top. However, it is still not clear if that would help them cross the 100 mark in the 2021 assembly. Seasoned journalists say that even 80 could be tough.

Indeed, in the Bongaon region of 24 North Paragana, which they considered to be their bastion since 2019, there are clear signs of an uncanny desperation in the BJP camp, especially since it dumped the CAA promise following nation-wide protests, especially in Assam and the North-east, much to the anger of the Matua community in West Bengal . The BJP had in 2019 dangled the CAA to the restless community as a seductive lollypop, many of whom have migrated in streams to India from Bangladesh since after Partition in 1947, the Bangladesh war of liberation in 1971, and in the 1980s and thereafter. Since then, there is an underlying longing for the idea of a confirmed, legitimate citizenship, especially since the NRC phobia was unleashed in Assam. The metaphor of ‘termites’ floated by the Union home minister, did not help either.

Despite possessing photo identity cards, among other valid documents, many of them still want further proof of citizenship. This was especially triggered and activated by the BJP after it floated the CAA (2019). Now that the BJP has reneged on the CAA promise, apparently so, many in the community feel betrayed. The promise that it will be resurrected and was suspended due to the pandemic does not seem to hold on the ground. There is a feeling of betrayal.

When asked, why do they want the CAA when they have all the documents, including voter identity cards, Aadhar cards, even passports etc -- many of them seem to become tight-lipped and at a loss for an answer. It’s as if they want to say that, please, this is not a quiz I want to join!

Others are more forthright. When we have all the documents, what is the need for a CAA, they say. It’s a BJP game, they seem to be sure.

The Matuas, mostly landless labourers and sharecroppers in East and West Bengal, were oppressed Dalits in the colonial era and after. They are a highly skilled, determined and cohesive community, legendary for their crafts, wood work, as florists and vegetable farmers, and most crucially as brilliant agriculturalists, extremely hardworking, productive and resilient. Social reforms and collective awareness over the years has only strengthened their skills and dignity as a community.

Indeed, with education coming their way in recent times, they seem to be excelling at multiple levels with high literacy and exalted levels of aspirations and ambitions. They are truly and originally a stoic and secular community who want to have a share of the fundamental rights under the Indian Constitution, a considerable pie in the development work, and not in subjugation, but in full enlightenment, with social reforms and empowerment, primary and higher education, economic upliftment, rapid mobility towards modernity and success, and, of course, political power.  More than that, they don’t want to be branded or treated as refugees. They want full and complete status as dignified citizens of India,

Since then, the BJP has been trapped in a Catch-22 scenario because the community remains largely secular and tolerant despite the BJP’s transparently divisive politics, their past persecution in Bangladesh, and their collective difficulties in India. At the great festival in early April at Thakurbari, where the Matuas collect from all over Bengal, all communities welcome them and open their doors and hearts for them, Muslims, Christians, other Hindu communities, including the upper caste communities. Besides, not all Namashudras, who are equally resilient, hardworking and skilled, are Matuas, and, yet, there is a shared symphony between them, despite some social, cultural and spiritual differences. There is no apparent Hindutva working among within the community as an ideology, it seems.

As Subroto Biswas, an encyclopedia on the history of Thakurbari, says, “You need not be a Matua to be a Matua. It’s a kind of Matutva… metein jaba… to be lost in a spiritual and humanist trance. You can be a Matua without being a Matua.”

Even while he says this, long processions of dancing men, women and youngsters pass by, with drums, songs and gulaal, singing Bolo Hari, Hari Bol, very similar to the bhakti/vaishnav tradition of the followers of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, but very different and original in this specific case because they don’t have Gods, nor temples of Hindu gods. All their temples at Thakurbari or at other places in Thakurnagar are simple structures with no paraphernalia or ritualism – devoted to their social reformer icons – all human beings, inheritors of the Thakurbaris, the symbols of their unity, identity, empowerment, worship, song and dance.

Mothers touch the stairs of one such temple dedicated to a social reformer, and touch their fingers on the faces and heads of their children as blessing. Women do shastaang pronama at the temples. Others sing and dance in abandon. But, there are no Hindu rituals.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee might be upping the ante to woo the crucial Matua community in the Bongaon subdivision of North 24 Paragana, and the nearby districts, like Nadia, with Thakurnagar as its epicenter, but the ground situation is fluid and open to interpretation and change. As of now, it’s not going to be a comfortable cake walk for either the BJP, which won handsomely in the last Lok Sabha elections from here in 2019 with overwhelming support of the community, nor will it be an easy ride for the Trinamool Congress (TMC), even while the Left, which looked at this region as its once-upon-a-time bastion, might just about increase its vote percentage at the third position. This, locals say, will surely help the TMC.

Thakurnagar is the epicenter because the Thakurbari is located here. The Thakurbari is the second most important sacred and revered space for the 30 million strong Matua community in West Bengal, of which around 15 million could be legitimate voters. The first important sacred space for the community is at Orakandi in Bangladesh, earlier in East Pakistan, much earlier in East Bengal in undivided India under the British and before.

This is where Modi went on March 27, the day polling began in Bengal, to pay homage to the founder of the Matua Mahasangh, Harichand Thakur, when he went to Bangladesh recently. Predictably, Mamata Banerjee said that it was a clear violation of the model code of conduct – amounting to campaigning and wooing a community with shared historical and social links in a neighbouring country. Predictably, too, it had no impact on Modi, nor on the ‘neutrality’ of the Election Commission.

Matunga

Orakandi in district Gopalgunj is the birthplace of Harichand Thakur, who started the first social reform and enlightenment movement for the oppressed and landless Dalit/Namashudra community in East Bengal in early 19th century, followed by his son Guruchand Thakur, equally revered, and then his great grandson, Pramatha Ranjan Thakur (PR Thakur), a barrister, who later established Thakurbari as the never-centre of the community in India. Harichand Thakur established the Matua Mahasangha. PR Thakur was a member of the West Bengal assembly as a Congress candidate after winning the elections in 1962. This was a reserved seat for the scheduled caste community.

Significantly, the wives of PR Thakur and his great grandfather Harichand Thakur, Binapani Devi Thakur and Shantimata Thakur, were equal partners and visionaries in the radical social reforms movement and the educational, spiritual and political emancipation of the ‘Namashudra’ community of the Matuas in East and West Bengal, and are highly respected here. Their statues accompany their husbands in the temples. Significantly, after her husband’s death, Binapani Devi became the iconic figure-head of the community at Thakurbari, highly respected and revered, and was referred to as ‘Boro Ma’, Elder Mother.

She was especially close to Mamata Banerjee, who referred to ‘Boro Ma’ again with great respect and fondness in her speech recently late evening at Barasat after she was banned from doing public meetings by the Election Commission. Among other things, Mamata Banerjee said that she took care of the treatment of ‘Boro Ma’ for more than two decades, built the road to the Thakurbari, constructed new, modern structures around the sacred pond and around the temples of their icons, built the government college at Thakurbari in the name of PR Thakur, and is building an university, among other things, like providing cycles for girls, financial incentives for girl students, helping the farmers, health insurance for women etc. Indeed, even BJP supporters agree that all the development work here has been done by Mamata Banerjee, while she was the first leader to bestow them with a sense of collective dignity and identity, until the BJP entered the scene.

The social reform movement among the Matuas, which began in the 19th century and continued after the British era, should also be seen in the backdrop of the pioneering work done by Jogendra Nath Mandal in Bengal under colonial rule, especially in the political and social empowerment of Dalits and other oppressed communities in Bengal, and thereby sending a signal to the rest of India. This was much earlier than Dr BR Ambedkar, the founder of the Indian Constitution and revolutionary intellectual, thinker, and emancipator, who created the theoretical and radical paradigm for Dalit emancipation in India. Sensing the unease, discomfort and hesitation of the top Congress leadership, Mandal persuaded Ambedkar to become a candidate for the Constituent Assembly from Bengal in 1946 with support from Dalits, Anglo Indians, the Muslim community and others. This was path-breaking mobilisation of the subaltern forces at that time. Mandal later became the first law and labour minister in independent Pakistan, but quit thereafter in disillusionment with the nature of secularism, among other issues, in 1950.

At the small temple dedicated to PR Thakur near the Thakurnagar railway station, again constructed by Mamata Banerjee, the priest, dressed in a blue shirt and trouser, says that no rituals are performed here. Hari bol on Thursdays and once in a month a big programme of songs and music with shared food. So, who is winning, the son of BJP’s Manjul Thakur, (the youngest son of PR Thakur), Subroto Thakur, or Narottam Biswas, the formidable candidate of the TMC, who traces his family lineage as very close associates of Harichand Thakur in Orakandi?

The priest, as usual, is tight-lipped. “Everyone here has his own mind. Both are equally respected,” he says.

This seems to be the guarded refrain around the town. PR Thakur’s eldest son, Kapil Thakur, was earlier an elected leader here from TMC. After his death, his wife, Mamata Thakur, became a TMC MP. Now, Manjul’s other son, Shantanu Thakur, is the BJP MP. The original clan is divided in the middle.

Others say, if the BJP was so confident of winning, why did Modi travel all the way to Bangladesh to pay homage to the Matua temple. “It was a clear sign of desperation,” they ask.

Says a sweets shop owner, very confident: “Well, both are respected here, and there is no social division or bitterness among their supporters. Besides, I am not from the Matua community, but, I, like others who are not Matuas, have respect for the Thakkurbari family. If you ask me, it’s a fifty-fifty scenario this time. A tough contest here at Gaighata, I tell you.”

To be concluded
 

 

(Photos by Snehasish Mistri)

 

Related:

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Battleground Bengal: Not one Vote for BJP finds a curious resonance

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