Poll Violence in West Bengal

Bangladeshi Eid shoppers stay indoors in Kolkata

Nadeem Qadir from Kolkata

20 May, 2019 12:00 AM printer

A large number of Bangladeshis, who are now in Kolkata for Eid shopping or for festival business, have beat the heat earlier, but they stayed indoors on Sunday as violence erupted in some parts of West Bengal as the staggered seven-phase election ended.

There was high likelihood of poll violence as the state had also seen sporadic violence in the past days, but a comment by an immigration officer at Netaji Shubash Chandra International Airport here told a first time woman visitor—“Is this your first visit to India? She replied “yes,” The officer asked “What do you do?” Reply “I am a student.” Officer “Why are you here?” “Eid shopping and sight seeing.” The officer:” Who else is with you?” Reply: “Nobody.” Officer:” I can’t believe this. You have to come alone to shop. Tomorrow (Sunday) there is likelihood of election violence and you will have to stay indoors.”

That alerted this correspondent and on contacting West Bengal Chief Minister and  Trinamool Congress Party supremo Mamata Banerjee . “There is a lot of tension. Do not know what will happen.” Asked why the tension, he replied “It has been a very tough fight and a tensed one.”

TV channels reported that West Bengal has been the scene of violence since the polls started and home-made bombs were set off all day on Sunday with police going into action hurling tear gas canisters and baton-charged activists of the Mamata’s TMC. The reports showed scenes of violence and the Central Police Forces went into action.  

TMC complained that there were no reasons for police action.

“Never seen anything like this before,” an angry Mamata told reporters after voting on Sunday.

The seven-phase two month-nine-day election ended and television channels focused on exit polls, which gives an indication about the winner. However, it has not been always correct. Online polls were also conducted.

Residents here said this was one of the most interesting elections and the political parties opposing Prime Minister Narendra Modi were pitting all kinds of options to form a coalition if needed to stop the incumbent premier from returning to power. 

Narendra Modi’s main rival Rahul Gandhi of the Congress Party, meanwhile met other smaller parties in a bid to form a coalition to stop the sitting prime minister to return to power for the straight second time. Only the Congress Party had returned to power consecutively in India’s political history.

Political analysts here said Rahul Gandhi comes from a very proud and mighty political family, but it was difficult to say if that had mattered to the voters.

For Narendra Modi some positive developments before and during the polls could matter to the voters, mainly the young ones who want to feel proud against arch regional rival --- Pakistan. One was the report by an Italian journalist confirming major loss to the militant outfit called Lashkare Tayeba, who killed at least 40 India soldiers. The report said 150 militants were killed in the air strikes.

The other side was the United Nations finally giving into Indian demand to ban the militant group. The UN on May 6, 2019 banned Pakistani-based Lashkar-e-Taiba for its links to al Qaeda. The organization has been banned under U.N. resolution 1267, which requires states to freeze the assets and prevent groups affiliated with the Taliban, Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda from entering or transiting through their territories. It calls for the prevention of supply, sale and transfer of arms and military equipment for such groups.

Meanwhile, Eid shoppers from Bangladesh has been crowding Kolkata’s markets over the past week although the festival is still about three weeks away. This correspondent met some owners of small business who were also making bulk purchases of ladies three-piece and men’s kurtas and “Modi coaties.”

“There is a huge demand for these clothes in Bangladesh and we can make good profits,” Azmal Huq, who has a shop the old parts of Dhaka. He added that he did not deal with saris as big houses were difficult to beat.

Asked if he was aware of the possible election violence, Azmal said “Brother, we have such violence and even more in our elections. Not scared, but definitely I am being cautious in my movements.”