From the then British Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald, who introduced the Communal Award on 16 August 1932, to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, who are now helming the Bhartiya Janata Party government, a common thread is discernible. The latterday variant of a Communal Award of sorts has literally ignited West Bengal and Assam, 72 years after Partition and close to 50 years after the liberation of Bangladesh.
And not the least because of the dramatic demographic imbalance that has come about in these two border states since the 1970s, especially post 16 December 1971. While Assam has been violently up in arms ever since the National Register of Citizens was introduced some months ago, a swathe of the populace in Bengal has had its dander up with the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill last week.
The flames have spread to five districts ~ North 24-Parganas, Howrah, Malda, Murshidabad and Birbhum. While Howrah and Birbhum are not alongside the India-Bangladesh border, the other three definitely are. And as with any major agitprop, that is fuelled by public angst, the Railways have been the target, with the obvious intent to dislocate the lifeline of the nation. And now as a security measure, that connectivity has been further dislocated with the suspension of Net services in the affected districts as well as two sub-divisions in South 24-Parganas.
The state is distinctly on a powder-keg and the Centre’s self-inflicted wound shall not be bandaged any time soon and especially in the context of the Prime Minister’s barb on Sunday, that those who are “indulging in arson ~ in Assam and in Bengal ~ can be indentified by their clothes”.
The anger over the legislation has doubtless provoked a section of the people to bare their angst. Having said that, there can be no defence of the indefensible, verily the arson over the weekend that has targeted trains and buses, not to forget the rail and road blockades. One must give it to Mamata Banerjee that she has been remarkably prompt with her stout warning on Saturday, sternly telling the perpetrators not to take the law into their own hands.
Rightly was the warning couched with the robust stress on the democratic option, which urgently deserves to be given a try, but regretfully has been accorded the short shrift both in BJP’s Assam and in Trinamul’s Bengal. It is no less a matter of regret that the Chief Minister’s appeal on Saturday has been generally ignored, if Sunday’s arson and violence that has roiled the five districts are any indication.
The suspension of the Net, vital to communication in this day and age, reaffirms the enormity of the crisis. Yet no parallel need be drawn with Srinagar quite yet. The fineprint of the extensive arson must be the bonfire of sanity on both sides of the divide, i.e. on the part of those who have brought in the legislation and those opposing it with fire and brimstone, and literally so. Let democratic certitudes be given a try. Let peace prevail. Both are in short supply.