The Malda violence created more mayhem in people’s mind than any other recent incident of communal violence in India. Even after a couple of days since the riots took in place the northern part of Bengal, there was no mainstream media coverage. It was only the social media that was buzzing about Malda, one of the most communally sensitive districts in West Bengal.
Violence erupted at Kaliachak in Malda on December 3, over an alleged remark of a right-wing leader. Following this, a mob of Muslim protesters, the number ranging from one lakh to ten lakh according to various reports, had set fire to a police station and damaged vehicles. The right-wing leader had made derogatory remarks against Prophet Muhammad. The communal fire soon spread to Purina, a Muslim-dominated area in Bihar, where riots occurred. The Baisi police station was attacked and looted, and BSF vehicles were torched by an angry mob.
All the while, Malda was a top trending topic in Twitter, and in Facebook, people from around the region were lamenting the lack of any media coverage. Twitterati took digs at certain Bollywood actors for their nonchalance; the intelligent brigade, comprising of writers and activists, were at the receiving end of barbed comments. Social media questioned the muted response of the intelligentsia, and how they chose to rouse their sentiments vehemently only when the minority was attacked.
As mainstream media picked up pace, and the spotlight was on West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, she went into denial and dismissed the incident, terming it as a mere altercation between locals and BSF personnel. It left people fuming, and accusations started to fly that Banerjee was shielding the offenders as a minority appeasement tactic.
But it seems the Bengal CM had something else on her mind. She was wary of the fact that the state’s image will be tarnished by the news of riots at the Bengal Global Business Summit that started from January 7. The Bengal government was trying to woo investors, and the news of communal mob violence would not have helped the matter. On hindsight, the playing down of the Malda incident was also a better decision, because it checked any likely domino effect that could further damage the social fabric of the nation.
In sync with its government mood, the local press remained muted about Malda, and the story was being reported as a law and order problem. The state, as a whole, went in denial, whereas Hindus in those minority-dominated areas shook in anticipation of violence. It is important for a government to take logical steps so that communal fire doesn’t gut the nationalistic spirit; but it is also equally essential to look at the ground reality and safeguard the interests of the people, in this case, the Hindus!
The dissent of Mamata Banerjee is quite evident. She made sure the ‘fact-finding’ team from BJP doesn’t visit the riot-hit area, on the pretext that this will incite the mob. It’s quite shameful for Bengal to behave as an autocracy, and not open its doors for fear of being exposed. Such a step only gives mileage to the mischief-makers, who get emboldened with every step of Mamata’s denial!