Since yesterday, (Tuesday, December 20), a new hashtag #BengalInFlames has been trending on Twitter, off and on, reaching the top 10 briefly last evening. However, a bit of research (a couple of clicks) revealed that those who were trying to trend it belonged either to the Bharatiya Janata Party, in fact its official Twitter handle, or to the West Bengal unit of BJP, or others with an ideological affiliation with the party.
The hashtag #BengalInFlames is connected with tweets, some with embedded videos, that say that West Bengal under Mamata Banerjee is teetering on the brink of a massive communal riot, by which they mean that Hindus are being singled out and targeted by a mafiosi of Muslim goons, mostly under the ruling Trinamool Congress protection/patronage.
In fact, the official Twitter handle of the BJP had tweeted the following yesterday, ostensibly to draw attention to the "communal flames" burning in West Bengal, and that chief minister Mamata Banerjee is conspicuously missing in action, in order to milk the demonetisation drive by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
That is not all. BJP's Sidharth Nath Singh conducted a press conference at the BJP headquarters, which was livecast on Facebook, that mentioned arson, loot and victimisation of Hindu families in the Dhulagarh region of Howrah district in West Bengal, and said that Muslims were deliberately, without provocation, trying to intimidate the resident Hindus. He "explained" at length how state patronage is offered to people of Islamic faith by the TMC government, who do what they please, causing immeasurable harm to the Hindus living in the state.
Interestingly, the video the BJP posted on its Facebook page, which was the peg of Singh's press conference, was a news report from a channel that has been known to distort facts and bend them to suit a particular end, mostly to please the Hindu nationalist sentiments of the ruling party at the Centre.
|On Tuesday, official handles from BJP camp tried trending #BengalInFlames. [Photo: Screengrab of BJP's official Facebook page.]|
So what exactly happened?
It has been reported by Kolkata correspondents, particularly here, that clashes did take place, but violence occured from participants belonging to both Hindu and Muslim communities. The report in Indian Express says on December 12, a peaceful procession to mark Propher Mohammad's birthday was attacked by a group of Hindus, following which there were retaliatory attacks.
There were incidents of violence, and about 25 people were detained in relation to that. Houses and shops were burned down, crude bombs were used as threats, and West Bengal police held persons from both communities. In fact, the flared nerves of Dhulagarh had calmed somewhat and things were returning to normal.
Of course, very few political organisations have the talent to paint an incident with the colour of Islamic atrocity on gullible Hindus like the BJP has. Religious polarisation is the oldest parlour trick that the BJP has mastered, and trending #BengalInFlames to inflame passions further was the perfect attempt to keep the communal cauldron simmering.
The BJP affiliate handles, kept tweeting on the given line, trying to make Dhulagarh the focal point of a completely engineered and manufactured conflict.
I urge everyone to use this trend and create awareness about the attacks happening in Kolkata on hindus. #bengalinflames— Akshay Bhade (@AkshayBhadeBJP) December 20, 2016
Where the hell has Mamata disappeared when Hindus are being attacked in Dhulagarh, Kolkata? #BengalInFlames— Akshay Bhade (@AkshayBhadeBJP) December 20, 2016
Hindus houses are being burnt and ransacked but the media and the bengal govt both are quiet, this is pathetic! #bengalinflames— Akshay Bhade (@AkshayBhadeBJP) December 20, 2016
A small business and industrial region in Howrah distict, Dhulagarh, therefore becomes for the BJP a rallying point to observe their "Save Democracy Day", because Muslims retaliated after a peaceful procession was attacked, in something that may seem to be a calculated move even.
The refrain is quite simple: the BJP wants to tell CM Mamata that she should stop her vociferous protests over the PM Modi-led demonetisation drive, particularly since the anti-demonetisation camp of the Opposition is coalescing around her, and not quite around Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. Didi has been extremely vocal in her strong and scathing criticism of the cash crunch, the new-day-new-rule bumbling fiasco orchestrated by the PMO, the ministry of finance and the RBI.
So, the BJP, both its Bengal unit and the ruling party at the Centre, wants Mamata to keep busy with her state, and dilute the debate.
But that's only a sliver of the massive social engineering that the BJP has in mind for the state of West Bengal, which had, seven months back, elected Didi with a massive mandate for the second time in a row.
Discrediting Didi is possible only if Bengal too, much like Assam, is allowed to become a communal cauldron with constant Hindu-Muslim clashes. What better way to do that than take the help of social media?
|BJP Bengal will observe "Save Democracy Day" on December 21, because apparently #BengalInFlames. [Photo: Twitter screengrab]|
However, this is hardly a new template as far as the BJP and social media's (soft to hard) Hindutva warriors are concerned. Rumours about a riot-like situation in Kolkata erupted last year in August when some started spreading the canard that Kolkata was burning and that communal clashes had brought the city to a grinding halt. Big names affiliated to the saffron party, even journalist Kanchan Gupta, tweeted that the city was indeed imperiled.
However, the whole thing turned out to be nothing but a traffic gridlock, resulting from a pecaeful demonstration by a big bunch of Muslims, who were protesting against Kolkata Police for detaining about 63 boys from a madrassa, who were being sent off to a Maharashtra seminary. It was routine police work, and barricades to ensure the protests didn't result in clashes had impacted the traffic adversely.
Residents of Kolkata, as well as a number of journalists, columnists took to Twitter and Facebook to clarify and clear the looming cloud of doubt and panic, and the issue fizzled out in a matter of hours.
But, the circumstances are different in the present context. While violent clashes have happened, whether provoked or unprovoked, the moot question is: why would a particular political party take upon itself to speak for a specific religious community and ensure its safeguard at the expense of the other?
In other words, why isn't the BJP and its direct/indirect affiliates condemning the incident unilaterally, without polarising it further, and without taking the side of the Hindu families affected, while constantly disparaging and demonising the Muslims who are also equally inconvenienced?
This is similar to BJP's demand of and PM Modi's interest in granting citizenship rights to Hindu refugees from Bangladesh, but not Muslim asylum seekers. While the communal persecution of the Hindus is a bitter truth in Bangladesh, why should a secular democracy like India frame an asylum policy on the basis of religion? How can minority rights in every country, particularly those in South Asia, be strengthened unless a collaborative approach to enshrine secularism is undertaken by all the countries?
It's simple. Giving it a communal colour suits BJP very much. Much like what they (successfully) did in Assam, wherein a hitherto resistant and solid Assamese nationalism gave away to a polarised Hindu nativists versus alien/illegal Muslims/possibly Bangladeshis binary that caused huge electoral rupture, the equation of ALL Muslims in Bengal as either illegal immigrants from Bangladesh or linked to terrorist activities from across the border is an insinuation that is floated on a daily basis.
However, West Bengal is hardly alone and novel a target for these enormously networked engineers of social unrest. Rumours online had sparked off the riots in Muzaffarnagar, Shamli and other districts of western UP in September 2013, that turned the tide of religious sentiments decisively, allowing the BJP to reap staggering dividends in Uttar Pradesh, in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Rumours about people from the Northeastern states fleeing Bangalore created a major panic some years back, which resulted in an overnight exodus of many students and young professionals from the tech paradise of a city. Rumours of Mohammad Akhlaq storing "beef" in his refrigerator started out as a malicious WhatsApp forward and resulted in the 50-year-old man's lynching and murder on September 28 last year.
No wonder then that the BJP and Twitter handles that proclaim allegiance to the greater Sangh Parivar are interested in making #BengalInFlames the top trend. This, while the country-wide pandemonium that is the demonetisation disaster is being given a new morality spin everyday - compared to a trial by fire, pregnancy and labour pain, austerity and purging of the Indian economy, among many dubious other similies and metaphors.
West Bengal's jihadi police was all outraged about army presence but is completely blind to #BengalinFlames. Are they on terrorists' side?— Sonam Mahajan (@AsYouNotWish) December 20, 2016
However, even that is not all. Why are the timing of the clashes and the hashtag that the BJP is trying to trend important? Let's weigh in:
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat is due to visit Kolkata for a three-day meet.
According to reports, Bhagwat is slated to address a public meeting in Kolkata on January 14, and will be meeting a number of Bengal-based Sangh pracharaks and BJP leaders of the state.
Though brushed aside as "small, internal meetings" that are "routine", it is equally important to remember that CM Mamata Banerjee is extremely opposed to Sangh's rabid Hindutva stance, and makes no bones about criticising it in public.
Similarly, the BJP and the Sangh are scathing about the perceived "Muslim appeasement" by Didi, and Mamata's photo-ops with Muslim clerics and leaders are routinely trashed by the BJP as encouraging Islamofascism in the state. As is evident in the tweets trending #BengalInFlames, Mamata Banerjee is often referred to as "Jihadi Didi" by Hindutva hardliners.
It must be mentioned here that the Mamata Banerjee government, in April 2015, had prevented the VHP chief Praveen Togadia from entering West Bengal, because earlier, in January that year, Togadia had organised a "suddikaran", or purification ceremony for some Christians and Muslims to reconvert them to the Hindu religious fold. Reports say, an FIR was lodged against Togadia for making inflammatory speech.
Going by this history, it is possible that Mohan Bhagwat's Bengal meet in January next year is being given appropriate political context and what better way to organise that than create a riot-like insidious situation where Hindus are shown to be insecure and victimised by an "Islamofanaticism-supporting" Didi?
Of course, the whole thing needs the window dressing of objective reporting, hence the video in which the original provocation is barely mentioned.
In addition, questions are being raised on Mamata Banerjee's public expenditure on beautifying and lighting up Kolkata for the Christmas celebrations, and obviously the BJP is at the forefront of demanding frugality from the CM in the time of demonetisation.
Moreover, organisational handles that have been tweeting with the hashtag #BengalInFlames, have sections dedicated to love jihad, ghar wapsi, conversion issue, and openly advocate the creation of a Hindu Rashtra. Hindu Jagruti's homepage is a work of wonder, since it peppers so-called journalistic reportage with narrow, rabidly communal Hindu supremacist agenda under the ruse of a Hindu "awakening".
Another website, Hindu Samhati, which is run by former RSS leader Tapan Ghosh, has been known to have a distinct presence in the Dhulagarh and Howrah region, according to Kolkata-based reporters.
|Hindu Samhati, which is run by Tapan Ghosh, has a marked presence in areas near Dhulagarh. [Photo: Screengrab]|
Another interesting aspect of #BengalInFlames is its trendsmap. Below is a screenshot of the places where the hashtag was being tweeted at around 9:47pm of December 20, 2016. It showed (not that unusual) activity in the east coast of the United States and in the United Kingdom, and also some from the Far Eastern countries.
Exactly HOW are people sitting in the US, the UK and other foreign countries aware of a riot-like situation in Bengal when there's barely anything in mainstream media about it? The answer perhaps lies in the BJP's extensive social media presence abroad and its gigantic NRI Virat Hindu followers.
|Trendsmap for #BengalInFlames showed activity in United States, United Kingdom and in Far Eastern parts. [Photo: Screengrab]|
(Above is the trendsmap in realtime.)
However, all is not lost. Yet. Good Samaritans of West Bengal tried their best to quell the rumours. Some called out the hypocrisy behind BJP trending the hashtag, while others pointed out the bigoted communal agenda behind the concerted and frankly nefarious intention to let the communal cauldron simmer.
Amazing how BJP goons & Bhakts are spreading rumours! However Bengal not going to pay ear to ur false hatred propaganda! #BengalInFlames— Debitara Dutta (@DebitaraDutta) December 20, 2016
Interesting is that those people concerned abt #BengalInFlames r not residents of WB. Ignorant of ground realities & faking it for no reason— Debitara Dutta (@DebitaraDutta) December 20, 2016
Some old hands at battling the Internet Hindus online expressed boredom as well:
But the smartest quip came from Dereck O' Brien, Rajya Sabha MP from TMC and party spokesperson. It was a double-edged whiplash that must have hurt the said communal friend of O' Brien. Hope the friend has taken due note:
Communal friend (from Panama!! ), your party again trying divisive stunts in Bengal. People here will always reject your communal politics— Derek O'Brien (@quizderek) December 20, 2016