The army was called out in Kolkata on Wednesday after a protest against Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen’s stay in India turned violent.
At least 50 people were injured, vehicles were burnt, traffic came to a halt and schools were closed when the protest against the Bangladeshi writer's visa extension turned into Nandigram protest.
A city infamous for bandhs and strikes, Kolkata suffered another jolt to its reputation. But has Bengal’s image taken a beating because of the protests in Kolkata? And do the protests in Kolkata reflect Muslim anger against the CPM?
CNN-IBN’s Senior Editor Sagarika Ghose asked this on Face The Nation to a panel comprising Kolkata Mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya, Shahanshah Jehangir, president of the Indian Union Muslim League in West Bengal, filmmaker Goutam Ghose and senior journalist Swapan Dasgupta.
The CPM-led Left Front government first bungled in Nandigram, then it botched up the investigation into graphics designer Rizwanur Rehman’s murder and on Wednesday it failed to foresee the violence in Kolkata.
Why has the Left Front government failed to read the people's mood so many times?
Mayor Bhattacharyya denied that the government has lost touch with the people and blamed Opposition parties for the violence.
"For the lost 30 years the ruling party has governed Bengal without any challenge at the political level. Other parties without being able to find any political answers to issues have taken recourse to vandalism and creating unrest. All this was done to ensure that West Bengal doesn't progress. The organisations are coming on the streets with a façade—they say they are coming out peacefully and then they suddenly become violent,” he alleged.
Jehangir rejected Bhattacharyya's allegation that Wednesday's protest were a "facade" and not genuine political activity.
"I think the Mayor isn't aware that the government was alerted well in advance that there would be a demonstration against Taslima Nasreen. We have been trying for many years to get Taslima out of Bengal, but it's unfortunate the Left Front government in Bengal has been requesting the Centre to give her extension. That (issue) has erupted now," said Jehangir.
Jehangir alleged the CPM had "bluffed" Muslims in Bengal. "For the last 30 years the CPM has done nothing for Muslims. The community had no choice but to vote for CPM, but they have deteriorated the economic and social condition of Muslims and made their life hell."
CPM’s vote bank
The CPM has alienated intellectuals, civic society and the common man in Bengal by its actions in Nandigram and Singur and now it may have hurt Muslims too. Has the CPM fortress in Bengal suffered a breach?
Dasgupta said the CPM was reaping what it had sown. "What we saw in Kolkata was the CPM being hoist with its own petard. They have for a long time now, under the guise of an anti-American alliance, been nurturing some of the most reactionary and fundamentalist Muslim forces. These forces, after Nandigram and the Rizwanur Rehman murder, feel they can gradually push the envelope bit by bit," Dasgupta said.
"What happened in Kolkata is a manifestation of the most ugly facet of sectarian politics, which has not been seen Bengal since Partition. Today we have the audacity of a Muslim League guy demanding to set the agenda for what constitutes right of speech in Bengal."
Filmmaker Ghosh accepted that the minority community had many grievances in Bengal but didn't agree that it was to blame for the violence in Kolkata. "What happened on Wednesday was the handiwork of disruptive forces who unleashed goons and mixed up issues. Nandigram and Taslima are two different issues," he said.
Shahanshah Jehangir called Dasgupta a "fanatic" for "calling Muslims fundamentalists". Muslims in West Bengal are trying to defend their religion, he said. "Is that fundamentalism? Don't we have rights to protest peacefully to safeguard our religion," he said.
Mayor Bhattacharyya claimed the poor still supported CPM and religion was not the issue. "The support for CPM among the poor—Hindu, Christian or Muslim—is still intact. The violence in Kolkata has nothing to do with Muslims, and how can Nandigram be clubbed together with the issue of granting visa to Taslima Nasreen. The state government doesn't grant visas," he said.
Jehangir, too, said the violence in Kolkata was not a Muslim protest but the reaction of the entire people of Bengal. "For the last 30 years the CPM has been whipping us. And by us I mean the people of Bengal," he said.
Dasgupta, a critic of the state government, though didn't blame the CPM for the violence in Kolkata. "What we saw today had very little to do with the CPM. I think it would be unfair to blame the CPM for this violence. What we saw in Kolkata was there being churning in Bengal, there being political ferment and all sorts of oddballs trying to fish in there and trying to create trouble. But ultimately the CPM has got to ask itself whether its over-control over the state is having a vicious reaction and undermining its own Chief Minister's initiatives," he said.
SMS result on: Has Bengal's image too taken a beating?
Yes: 92 percent
No: 8 percent