A 65-year-old man died of stab wounds in Kolkata on Thursday as fresh violence erupted in parts of West Bengal’s Basirhat region that has been rocked by communal clashes over a controversial Facebook post.
Kartik Ghosh was attacked by mobs with sharp objects when he was returning home on a motorcycle on Wednesday afternoon. This was the first death in violence that has swept the Basirhat region, barely 12 kilometres from the Bangladesh border, that has injured at least 23 people.
Since Sunday evening, Muslim mobs have set shops and buildings on fire and clashed with police, angered by an offensive post on Facebook by a Class 11 Hindu student.
As tensions rose in the area on Thursday, mobs attacked a dargah and vandalised shops and houses belonging to Muslims in what locals described as retaliatory attacks. A large team of policemen struggled for hours to disperse the crowd by caning and firing tear gas shells, but without much success. Angry mobs set tyres on fire and sounds of local-made bombs exploding could also be heard.
The house of a local Trinamool politician and a party office also came under attack from a Hindu mob the same evening. “I was at the Basirhat police station when a group of anti-social elements descended on my house around 5.30 pm,” Basirhat (south) MLA Dipendu Biswas told HT.
Reports emerged that Trinamool leaders were unhappy with Biswas’ activities in the area, and have summoned him to the party office in Kolkata on Friday. Residents of Harishpur and Mailakhola villages also alleged that the MLA accompanied the police when they went to Hindu-dominated areas in search of weapons.
The area continues to be under prohibitory orders and internet services remained suspended for the second day in a row. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has asked all political parties to refrain from visiting the riot-affected zone until peace is restored. “Please cooperate with the government,” she said on Thursday evening.
The violence has taken a political colour with the BJP accusing chief minister Mamata Banerjee of appeasing Muslims and the ruling Trinamool Congress alleging the saffron party was inciting communal passions for electoral benefit.
A team of three BJP MPs – Meenakshi Lekhi, Satyapal Singh and Om Prakash Mathur – are scheduled to visit Basirhat on Friday, and submit a report to party president Amit Shah. But state government sources told HT that the local administration was likely to block their entry, setting the stage for fresh confrontation.
Local residents blamed police and security forces for instigating the violence and acting in a partisan manner. “Police are raiding the houses of the victims, instead of arresting the rioters,” state BJP president Dilip Ghosh told reporters in Kolkata.
A few residents demanded that army should be deployed as they had little faith on the police but on Thursday, the state government rejected an offer by the Centre for more troops.
The epicenter of the violence, Baduria, however remained calm as shops and markets opened and vehicles plied normally.
In Kolkata, scuffles broke out at the RG Kar Hospital after Ghosh’s death between Trinamool Congress and BJP workers. Bengal president Dilip Ghosh and BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya faced resistance from Trinamool supporters and had to return without meeting them.
“He was the ward president of the party in Basirhat,” remarked BJP state secretary Dilip Ghosh. However Kartik Ghosh’s sons denied that he was linked to any political party.