Explosives and Bombs: Culture of Political Violence in West Bengal
   14-Jan-2020
 
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The blast at the firework factory in Naihati poses many questions as it has now been alleged that it was producing country bombs. BJP has demanded a NIA investigation into the blasts 
 

The mushrooming of factories producing crude bombs, stockpiling of explosives in offices of the TMC and the general apathy of the state administration towards law and order indicate an imminent crisis in West Bengal

 Suman Bhattacharyya, Kolkata

 
 
On the day of Mahashtami on October 2, 2014, during its most important festival, Durgapuja, Bengal, and consequently the whole country, woke up with a shudder. The noise of the blasts which awoke Bengal from a deep slumber of nonchalance came from Khagragarh, a predominantly Muslim neighborhood in Burdwan town. The general response was initially one of disbelief until a new chapter of Islamic militancy was soon uncovered. Two Indian Mujahideen terrorists, Shakil Ahmed and Sobhan Mondal, died in the blast. Another, Abdul Hakim, succumbed to his injuries later. The police seized 55 improvised explosive devices, RDX, wrist watch dials (used as timers), SIM cards, forged documents, jihadi propaganda literature and video among other things.
 
 
The Khagragarh blast had occurred in the house of Nurul Hasan Chowdhury, a local Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader. The ground floor of the house was a TMC party office. During the 2008 and 2013 Panchayat elections, it was the election office of the TMC.
 
 
The Khagragarh incident also exposed the myth of masculinity associated with terrorism. The wives of Shakil Ahmed and Abdul Hakim initially tried to prevent the police from entering the apartment at gunpoint, threatening to blow up the building and hurriedly destroyed several evidence. The Khagragarh blasts had also exposed the trans-border connect of Islamic militancy.
 
 
On August 30, 2019, a special NIA Court sentenced nineteen people to jail terms ranging from six to ten years; this includes four Bangladeshi nationals. Khagragarh, however, was neither an exception nor an isolated event.
 
 
Extensive parts of Bengal, have, over a long period of time, become a hotbed of such unlawful anti-national activities. The manufacturing of crude bombs, one shutters and other explosive devices has assumed the proportions of a prosperous cottage industry.
 
 
A WBCS officer who has served as BDO in Beldanga, Murshidabad, confirmed this on conditions of anonymity.
 
 
The recent protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act in December 2019 grew to be most violent in Howrah, Birbhum and Murshidabad districts which have easy access to these supplies. One such bomb was hurled at Ajay Singh Yadav, DC Headquarters of the Howrah Commissionerate and he suffered serious injuries.
 
 
Five years ago, on October 27, 2014 three men had died of bomb injuries during a clash that broke out in the Makhra village in the vicinity of Parui, Birbhum district. The clashes had continued in November and in the major outbursts during November 13 and 29, the cadres of the ruling party hurled bombs at BJP supporters leaving several injured. The Naihati blast on 3 January 2020 is, again, neither an isolated event, nor an accident in a fireworks factory. Of the ten illegal arms factories unearthed during 2017-19, seven were in the North 24 Parganas in the Kakinada-Jagaddal-Naihati belt. The other three had been operative in the Baruipur and Maheshtala areas of the South 24 Parganas. With the improvement in the law and order situation in Bihar, the illegal industry of fire arms manufacturing is believed to have shifted its locale from Monghyr to these places in Bengal.
 
 
The ruling TMC is veritably connected with the manufacturing and marketing of crude bombs. One person died and four others were critically injured in a blast at a TMC party office at Narayangarh, West Midnapore on August 23, 2018. The office was partly blown away by the impact of the blast.
 
 
Before the 2019 Parliamentary elections, crude bombs were being manufactured in the backyard of the house of a TMC Panchayat Pradhan in West Midnapore. Another blast had damaged the TMC Party office at Dubrajpur, Birbhum during the 2018 Panchayat elections. The office was reported to have piled a huge stock of crude bombs. This was not unusual; the Trinamool Birbhum District President, Anubrata Mondal had, in July 2013, from an open meeting, exhorted his party his party workers to hurl bombs at police and damage houses of opposition candidates. This public statement has never been withdrawn. Under political patronage, thus, the crude bomb industry continues to greatly prosper in Bengal.
 
 
This incitement of violence on behalf of the ruling TMC has aggravated the violence of Islamic jihad. On January 28, 2015, the NIA had arrested four accused of the Khagragarh blast from Nadia, Birbhum and Murshidabad Mohammad Mosiuddin, alias Musa hailed from Labhpur in Birbhum. The WBCS officer I spoke to also confirmed that Islamic terrorists who reach Bengal from the other side of the borders, or choose to shift from Kerala or Kashmir, find a convenient home in Bengal. Murshidabad, in that case, is a preferred location. The most popular strategy is to open a tailoring shop in Beldanga. Apparently a harmless enterprise, the shops soon develop into centres for jihadi indoctrination and activating similar networks.
 
 
The silence of the state administration regarding the blasts is appalling. Even during the January blasts of Naihati, neither the state nor the local administration showed any initiative in probing into the incident; how were the local villagers allured into the unlawful activities, how could a remote factory at Masjidpara in Naihati pile such enormous stocks of explosives and chamicals, how did it escape the eyes of the police are simple questions peaceful law abiding citizens want to know. The TMC and the administration brush them aside on the pretext of being ‘minor incidents’.
 
 
While the country was busy in New Year festivities, a serious communal clash had erupted in Duttapukur, barely 30 km away from the site of the Naihati blast. Were the crude bombs used by the rioters supplied from this factory, or any other in the vicinity, that still remains to be unearthed?
 
 
Jagdeep Dhankhar, Hon’ble Governor of West Bengal, has tweeted his ‘pain and anguish’ over the Naihati blasts and wanted an ‘intense expert probe’. Arjun Singh, BJP MP from Barrackpore, has demanded an NIA investigation.
 
 
These incidents of bomb attacks are not only peripheral, the heart of Kolkata had also been witness to one such major incident in February 2013. Tapas Chowdhury, an officer of Kolkata Police’s Special Branch chased Mukhtar, who opened fire at the officer and killed him. The clashes triggered from the students’ union election at Harimohan Ghose College in Garden Reach, Kolkata.The Police Commissioner, Ranjit Pachnanda, who had almost arrested Mukhtar, was soon transferred from his responsibilities by the orders of the Chief Minister.
 
 
There was indiscriminate bombing in the Burrabazar area during the 2015 Kolkata Municipal Elections. The accused are set free, no punishment is accorded. The security forces and the police have gradually come to terms with the reality that the manufacturing of crude bombs is an integral part of the political culture of the ruling party. It is futile to try to stall the miscreants. During the post poll clashes in 2019 in Sandeshkhali (North 24 Parganas), 3 BJP supporters were killed and an entire village burnt down under the leadership of Sk Shahjahan.
 
 
The leaders and ministers of TMC are famous for organising various fairs and festivals on themes. One wonders when they will start a crude bomb festival in the state! The cult of bombing and violence has become so common that Jyotipriyo Mallick, Minister for food and supplies in the present government and MLA from Habra, North 24 Parganas refute the claims of a legal probe every time such an incident occurs.
 
 
It is thus under the protection and patronage of political power that Sk Shahjahan roams around freely and those accused of communal riots in Duttapukur plan an attack elsewhere.
 
 
This is of great concern because West Bengal is moving towards another Municipal election soon. In Kolkata and ninety other municipalities, like Birbhum, Murshidabad and North 24 Parganas where the elections are due soon, one feels apprehensive about what turns political rivalry might take. During the last municipal elections in 2015, there was widespread violence and use of bombs in Dumdum and Salt Lake in Kolkata.
 
 
The mushrooming of factories producing crude bombs, stockpiling of explosives in offices of the ruling TMC party and the general apathy of the state administration towards law and order points towards an imminent crisis in the State.