KOLKATA: “You were killed at this age for working for BJP.” This was written on a poster stuck to the back of 18-year-old Trilochan Mahato, who was recently found hanging by a tree at Balarampur in Purulia district of West Bengal.
While the BJP blamed the grotesque death on Trinamool Congress, the ruling party blamed it on BJP’s factional feud. Balarampur is one of the several areas in western districts of the state where the BJP whitewashed the TMC in the recent panchayat elections. The BJP claimed it lost 17 cadres during the entire election process whereas the TMC claimed some 13 of its cadres were killed.
In Bengal’s political realm, every party has armed men who are tasked with ‘capturing’ villages, booths or entire regions when needed. ‘Capturing’, in Bengal, means violent removal of rivals, killing them if necessary. While CPM’s armed goons were called ‘Harmad Bahini’, derived from the Portuguese word ‘Armada’, TMC’s armed cadres are called ‘Bhairab Bahini’.
“The orders are generated in Kolkata and the district leadership gives us free hand to implement them,” a local leader in Birbhum district said. While political violence is particularly acute in some districts such as East Burdwan, Hooghly, Paschim Medinipur, Birbhum and Bankura, tensions prevail in small pockets across the state throughout the year and get accelerated during elections.
Machetes, country pistols locally called ‘pipe guns’ and country bombs are the weapons of choice. According to police sources, so huge is the demand of weapons and ammunition for political violence that many of the gun-makers of Bihar’s illegal weapons hub, Munger, have shifted base to West Bengal. Several illegal factories of Munger gun-makers have been unearthed in Hooghly, South 24 Parganas, Howrah, Murshidabad and Malda districts over the past two years.
“Political violence in Bengal is not a new phenomenon. Earlier, it was Congress versus CPM, then Congress cadres killed Naxalites, then CPM cadres killed Congress, then CPM versus Trinamool Congress, then factional feuds of TMC and now it’s TMC versus BJP. There is a culture of political violence in Bengal and persons dying for the party are considered ‘martyrs’. The glorification of deaths glorifies the violence,” said Aniruddha Basu, a political scientist in Kolkata.
Ruling TMC has a district-wise list of 466 party activists killed since the party’s formation in 1998. BJP’s official figures say 19 of its activists were killed since 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The role of police in violence has often come under question. “Sometimes, we have strict orders to remain mum. We, too, have families,” a police officer of Paschim Medinipur district said.
Political observer Shashanka Roy Choudhury says, “Whenever an activist is killed, his friends go out to seek revenge by killing an activist of the other party and the circle continues. What is more shameful is that rape has now become a tool of ‘punishment’, which was not the case earlier.” A BJP candidate’s sister-in-law was raped, allegedly by TMC men, in Nadia district after she refused to withdraw nomination from the panchayat polls. With general election due next year and Assembly polls in 2021, political killings are set to see a rise in the state.