The State of West Bengal under the ruling Trinamool Congres (TMC) government is going through a period of lawlessness, with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee exacerbating the situation further by stoking sectarianism and ethnic divide.
Since 2019, she has blamed ‘outsiders’ for incidents of violence and unrest that took place in the State. The objective behind it was to evade responsibility for failing to provide safety and security to the residents of West Bengal.
It also served another purpose of creating a magnified sense of fear among the Bengali community that their culture, language and safety are somehow being usurped by migrants from other states.
While such regionalism and eventual polarisation have yielded great results for the Mamata Banerjee government in the 2021 West Bengal elections, it has divided society further and made ‘outsiders’ vulnerable to casual discrimination and real-life attacks.
Mamata Banerjee and her prejudiced remarks against outsiders
On April 25, 2023, angry locals in the Kaliganj area in the Uttar Dinajpur district of West Bengal attacked the police over inaction in the alleged rape and murder case of a minor Dalit girl. They were furious at the cops for inappropriately handling the dead body of the victim.
During a press conference on the following day, Mamata Banerjee went on to slam the Bihari community for orchestrating the attack. “The manner in which the cops (including female personnel) were attacked and police station was set on fire by goons from Bihar is unpardonable…” the West Bengal CM claimed.
Recently, Mamata Banerjee blamed 'Bihari goons' for assaulting cops in Kaliaganj where a minor Dalit girl was allegedly raped and murdered.— Dibakar Dutta (দিবাকর দত্ত) (@dibakardutta_) April 29, 2023
“The manner in which the cops were attacked and police station was set on fire by goons from Bihar is unpardonable…” she claimed.
In March this year, Mamata Banerjee blamed the violence and unrest during Ram Navami on ‘outsiders.’
“You bring goons-on-hire from outside of Bengal, carry out arson, and orchestrate riots here…We have never stopped you from conducting rallies… Who permitted you to hold rallies with swords and bulldozers?” she said during a protest rally against the Union government.
Mamata Banerjee had also blamed 'outsiders' for the violence in Howrah and claimed that the Ram Navami yatra passed through an 'unauthorised route.'— OpIndia.com (@OpIndia_com) March 31, 2023
In December 2021, Banerjee visited Goa and claimed that she did not want ‘outsiders’ to control Goa. “We want BJP to end in Goa. Everyone needs to unite to defeat BJP in Goa. I didn’t come to counter you, I don’t want outsiders to control Goa,” she had said.
We want BJP to end in Goa. Everyone needs to unite to defeat BJP in Goa. I didn't come to counter you, I don't want outsiders to control Goa…I also belong to a Brahmin family, I am a Brahmin. I don't need to take a character certificate from BJP: WB CM Mamata Banerjee in Goa pic.twitter.com/xakvWb0xdI— ANI (@ANI) December 14, 2021
In the run-up to the 2021 West Bengal Vidhan Sabha polls, Mamata Banerjee used the ‘outsider’ jibe for political gains. She tried to consolidate the Bengali vote by first labelling the BJP as a party of ‘outsiders‘ (Bohiragoto).
While addressing an election rally in March 2021, she alleged, “They (BJP) have the plan to kill a woman from their party. As you know, they had brought goons from Uttar Pradesh (to Bengal). They will make those goons torture her, blame the State and divide the Hindus and Muslims. Remember this is the plan of the thugs from Bihar and Rajasthan.”
#WATCH | They (BJP) have another plan to kill a woman from their own party with goons they have brought from Bihar & UP and put the blame on Bengal. This is their plan: West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee pic.twitter.com/KujcL52Xho— ANI (@ANI) March 30, 2021
“Baira thaka goondara aisa bangla ke dhokhol kora nibe, Banglar sanskriti ke dhokhol kore nabe, banglar asthitya dhokhol kore nabe.(Goons from other States will come here and take over Bengal, destroy its culture and identity),” the incumbent West Bengal Chief Minister alleged during another election rally in Nandigram.
She used similar tactics in 2019 when relatives of one deceased Mohammed Sayeed attacked doctors at the NRS Medical College and Hospital in Kolkata. When other doctors and hospital staff staged a protest, demanding security and safety, Mamata Banerjee was quick to accuse them of being ‘outsiders.’
“They are outsiders. The government will not support them in any way. I condemn doctors who have gone on strike. Policemen die in the line of duty but the police don’t go on a strike,” Mamata Banerjee had said.
Social harmony going for a toss in West Bengal
Due to the lack of jobs and industries in West Bengal, Bengalis are forced to take up work in other States and cities. They are so-called ‘outsiders’ in those States and resent when treated any differently from a native.
Such is the feeling of any migrant living in West Bengal when the Chief Minister openly espouses hate against them. But Mamata Banerjee has refused to stop her dangerous rhetoric, which is turning one ethnic group against another.
In the hopes that it will help position herself as a ‘mass leader’ of the Bengalis, the West Bengal CM’s vicious narrative is destroying the social cohesion in the State.
As a Bengali, I am thus forced to ask Mamata Banerjee – Why do you hate outsiders so much?
The article was first published in Opindia on April 28, 2023.