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Editorial: A Didi O Didi moment

The deeds of a panchayat-level TMC goon in Sandeshkhali have caught the attention of the BJP-led Union government, its pet agencies and friendly media like no other case of sexual violence has in recent years.

Editorial: A Didi O Didi moment

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CHENNAI: It’s not everyday that crimes committed in a village deep in the Sunderbans disturb the sleep of the powerful in New Delhi. Yet, the deeds of a panchayat-level Trinamool Congress goon in Sandeshkhali, a riverine island 75 km from Kolkata accessible only by boat, have caught the attention of the BJP-led Union government, its pet agencies and friendly media like no other case of sexual violence has in recent years.

Five weeks after Sheikh Shahjahan’s henchmen attacked Enforcement Directorate personnel seeking to raid his properties on January 5, protests by the women of Sandeshkhali block in North 24 Parganas district have erupted, throwing up serious allegations of land grab and sexual violence against him and two of his sidekicks. Suddenly, the National Human Rights Commission and the National Commission for Women have woken up from their long slumber to ask searching questions.

Union minister Smriti Irani, who never spoke up against the sexual harassment of women wrestlers by a BJP MP, is trying to paint this as an assault on Hindu women by Muslim men (although the two sidekicks are Hindu). West Bengal governor CV Ananda Bose and BJP leaders have rushed to the village to put the state government of Mamata Banerjee in the dock. And Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself is scheduled to visit Bengal next week, where he will in all probability reprise his Didi O Didi jibe.

Two aspects of our politics become obvious as this case pans out. One is that no episode of sexual violence against women is serious enough to not be reduced to political football by our parties, especially when a Lok Sabha election is looming. With an election announcement only weeks away, Sandeshkhali has become an opportunity for BJP to damage the Mamata Banerjee government’s standing among women voters. Unlike in patriarchy-ridden states, women voters are an all-important force in Kali-worshipping Bengal.

Insinuations of rape and exploitation of Hindu women by a Muslim-led gangster are likely to polarise the vote to the BJP’s advantage, especially in South Bengal. The BJP of Amit Shah and Narendra Modi will have no qualms about cynically exploiting the Sandeshkhali issue for political purposes despite its own shameful record on investigating rape cases in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere.

The other aspect brought out by Sandeshkhali is that politics and crime are joined at the hip. In West Bengal, they are in fact one being. Ruling parties, whether the Congress, the Left Front or now the Trinamool Congress, have all been enmeshed with criminal and feudal elements at the local level who deliver votes en bloc in return for patronage and protection. This is the main reason why the political discourse in rural West Bengal, as in the Hindi states, remains rooted in violence and crime rather than development. All welfare by the state and all aspects of a commoner’s life are mediated by this nexus of feudalism and crime, which is erroneously described as the ‘grassroots’ of the party in power. For all practical purposes, this nexus is the state.

When their ugly nexus with crime is exposed by incidents like Sandeshkhali, it is not good enough for leaders like Mamata Banerjee to whimper about the tactics of the opposition. It goes with the game. Like it or not, Sandeshkhali is going to be a Didi O Didi moment for Mamata Banerjee.

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