Time to act

Yet another explosion in an illegal cracker manufacturing unit within three months gives abundant room for suspicion over the slipping law and order situation in the state of West Bengal. At least eight persons were killed when an explosion occurred on Sunday morning at an illegal firecracker manufacturing unit in the Mochpol area under Duttapukur Police Station in the state’s North 24 Parganas district. Two of the deceased were identified as Keramat Ali and his son Roushan Ali. Six bodies are yet to be identified and have been kept at the morgue at the Barasat Medical College and Hospital. The two-storied house where the firecrackers were allegedly manufactured came crashing down. Several houses in the vicinity also suffered damage. This comes close to the earlier similar explosion that took three months ago, that too during the local bodies polls. Only three months ago, over 12 people were killed in an explosion in an illegal firecracker manufacturing unit at Egra in the Purba, Medinipur district of the State and it was during the local panchayat polls. Incidentally, West Bengal continues to witness violence, and most of the time entire Opposition calls it state-sponsored.  Perhaps, Mamata Banerjee seems to have continued the legacy of the erstwhile CPM-led government which ruled the state for closer to three- decades. Her TMC party stormed to power in 2011 ending the 34-year Communist rule. Since then no election, whether local bodies or assembly or even the Lok Sabha polls witnessed unprecedented violent incidents. Dozens of people might have also been killed. The bitterness between the ruling TMC in the state and the BJP-led NDA further widened.  An intolerant Mamata Banerjee was also seen boycotting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s programs in her state, also denying permission to even the Union Home Minister Amit Shah and their party chief’s restrictions on addressing the election rallies, and also encouraging the organized attacks become a common feature. Such an uncouth approach, perhaps, no other regional party has adopted, despite its ideological or policy differences with the party government at the Centre, since independence. Such venomous attitude Mamata also led to a challenge to the Home Ministry’s refusal to extend the tenure of her Chief Secretary or withdraw sanctions to central agencies from going ahead with their duties in dealing with graft and other cases.

Why should the BJP or its NDA alone be blamed for finding fault with West Bengal violence? Not so long ago, the senior Congress Divijay Singh came down heavily on Mamata Banerjee, who might have become a friend in arms in the newly formed India National Democratic Inclusive Alliance (I.N.D.I.A.) block, soon after the panchayat polls a couple of months ago in the state. He termed the violence that broke out in panchayat polls despite the central forces’ deployment as ‘frightening and unpardonable”. Even the Congress party’s floor leader in Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, came down heavily on the Mamata government. Even the Communists hold the same view and make allegations about growing violence under Mamata’s rule. Even, the High Court has had to pull her government on many occasions, including her dictatorial decision to lay restrictions on pooja of Kali Mata celebrations for which Bengal is popularly known. Against that backdrop, it is becoming more concerned over the deteriorating law and order situation in the state of West Bengal, where the state police personnel are alleged to remain as mute spectators whenever the ruling party members attack the Opposition leaders, especially during the elections. And, these two back-to-back explosions in the state raise doubts over some complacency among the state intelligence or police. The state appears to be in the dark about how many such illegal cracker units exist and whether only Diwali crackers are being made or some other homegrown bombs, which can be misused during elections to create mayhem. What is more deplorable is that the news reports suggest, that despite the local complaining over these illegal or unlicensed cracker units’ existence, the local authorities refused to take any action. In the latest incident, the locals indeed alleged that they had complained to the police about the illegal firecracker manufacturing unit but the police did not act, Although the state Chief Minister had set up a committee headed by the State’s Chief Secretary to take steps against illegal firecracker manufacturing units in the State, many feel has come too late. While it is a fact that implementation of law takes a beating in our country at the drop of a hat, one cannot ignore life threatening industry like fire crackers where no complacency should be tolerated, come what may. And, the Leader of the Opposition in the State Assembly Suvendu Adhikari said that decisions taken by the West Bengal Government after the blast at Ergra were “merely a publicity stunt to diffuse the tension and public outrage at that time”. “They won’t take any action this time either and wait patiently for the media attention to die down. The interests of the TMC are aligned with these illegal explosive manufacturing units,” Adhikari alleged. However, the state Minister and local MLA Rathin Ghosh pointed a finger at the Indian Secular Front (ISF) and said that the Trinamool had lost in the area where the explosion had occurred in the recent panchayat polls. Even after the first such explosion three months back, Mamata, after visiting the explosion site only expressed her displeasure, but no visible resolve was shown. Yes, whataboutery may be used against the opposition citing other incidents in other states but it is high time we set aside blame game and attend seriously to issues where lives of people are at stake.

With the Mamata government’s failure to live up to her promises to provide violence-free elections, she is now accusing the Centre’s decision for National Investigative Agency (NIA) to take over the case to investigating illegal explosives manufacturing unit across the country, besides the present incident, appears to have rattled the Mamata government who seems to have realized of ground slipping under her feet. That may be the reason why she has to come out with a surprise statement that the Centre’s decision to ask NIA to take over the investigation, was part of the Centre’s proposal to advance Lok Sabha elections in December this year, which not only looks bizarre, but also crazy. Where is the need for the BJP-led NDA government to advance polls when it has clear six months and already the Ram temple at Ayodhya was also scheduled for January 22? In the last elections, the TMC got a shock when the BJP won 70 of 294 MLA seats in the 294-strong assembly. The BJP also put up a good show even in the Lok Sabha when it could bag 16 out of 42 in the 2019 general elections. And, the time seems to have come for the BJP to take serious note of the deteriorating law and order situation in West Bengal, where a large number of Rohingya migrants have also managed to come to become permanent citizens, thanks to the ruling party’s magnanimity in extending Aadhar and voting cards, despite their suspicious identities. And, with the formation of the new I.N.D.I.A. block to overthrow the Modi government by hook or crook, it is all the more for the election commission to take more precautions to ensure a free and fair poll. The Centre too should not shy away from bringing the state under the President’s Rule for a brief period to ensure violent elections, considering the possibility of the entire opposition joining hands to scare the rightist party in the Lok Sabha polls. Some may opine that the President’s rule might give political advantage to Mamata, but sometimes, one needs to take risks by protecting people’s lives whoever be the victims.