What was seen as a communal flare-up in this West Bengal district may be more terrifying with reports that the police here are hand-in-glove with drug cartels linked to sleeper terror cells.
By Sujit Bhar in Kolkata
On January 3, 2016, violence and rioting began in Kaliachak area of Malda district in the state of West Bengal. It was described as a communal flare-up. Thousands of Muslim youth attended a rally called by two Muslim organizations, Ida-ra-e-Shariya and Anjuman Ahle Sunnatul Ja-mat, to protest a speech by Akhil Bharat Hin-du Mahasabha leader Kamlesh Tiwari on Dec-ember 3, 2015, where he allegedly insulted the Prophet Muhammad.
As it passed, the police stopped the rally, and it soon turned violent and rioting broke out. The Kaliachak police station was vandalized, private cars, police and BSF vehicles and North Bengal State Transport Corporation buses were set on fire. A huge amount of property was damaged, train services were disrupted and 30 policemen were injured.
However, according to sources, there was more to the rioting than just the speech. And the reason is a threat to national security. Interestingly, no Hindu property was vandalized. According to an expert, it was an outburst against the police, cloaked in the garb of communal passions, engineered by interested parties to protect their poppy cultivation and drug money flow and linked to sleeper terror cells throughout the length of West Bengal’s border with Bangladesh. And in a shocking statement, a senior official of a paramilitary force in West Bengal told India Legal: “In 10-15 years, this area will become another Kashmir if concerted efforts are not taken to stem this nexus.”
The role of the police in the current situation is also suspect. If a Hindu-Muslim riot was brewing, why did the police have no inkling about it? And if it did, what did the police do to pre-empt it in an area as sensitive as Malda?
Malda, in fact, has a long history of communal riots. The 2011 Census shows that the Muslim population in the district is higher than that of any other religious community. Riots have been recorded in Deganga (in Malda) in 2010 and Canning in 2013.
The Malda flare-up was brought about by interested parties to protect their poppy farms and drug money flow. It’s linked to sleeper terror cells all along the length of West Bengal’s border with Bangladesh.
So what actually happened this time? A security analyst based in the area, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “The police had possibly accompanied some excise officials and destroyed some of the poppy crop. This was a no-no as per an unwritten agreement between the law keepers and the poppy growing mafioso. The mafia, therefore, wanted to teach the police a lesson and Tiwari’s stupid speech came in handy.”
Had this been the only itch, matters would have subsided quickly and normalcy restored. However, in many areas, BSF personnel and policemen are hand-in-glove with the drugs cartel and they are being provided tacit protection by the ruling Trinamool Congress. “The Trinamool is primarily responsible for this,” asserted the expert.
However, one should not forget that poppy cultivation was prevalent even during the time of the Congress and the Left Front. But the expert said “the situation was hardly as bad”. In fact, the similarity of this situation with Afghanistan is stark. Poppy cultivation there led to drugs, which flowed out of the country and came back as hard currency which was used to buy arms, ammunition and food by the Taliban fighters.
This problem has seen cumulative growth over the years, primarily because of political interference in the functioning of the police force. Political parties have always allowed human trafficking through this border, provided identity papers to those crossing over and thereby secured their vote banks.
Retired IAS officer Sandhi Mukherjee has said that the apex court, while engaging committees to look into police reforms (see box), the apex court had observed that the police force would remain corruptible if it remained under the control of the ruling government in the state. The SSC would comprise the chief minister or home minister, the opposition leader, experts and eminent non-political personalities of the state.
However, as expected, it ran into a hurdle. “No political party in the state wanted to implement it,” said Mukherjee. “That was because they didn’t want to lose out on the inherent benefits of having the state police under their total control.” This was how the police force’s supposed neutrality was destroyed. All parties have been responsible for this as they all used the police in Malda to channel illegal funds for their own benefit. The drug mafia, therefore, had great clout in every government and did not brook any police interference.
This time, however, things are different. It has been proved that West Bengal has one of the largest numbers of sleeper terror cells in the country. The drug money, along with a fake currency racket, fuels these cells and helps them grow. But it has grown to dangerous proportions. “The ‘communal’ riots engineered by the mafia is a blunt statement of intent,” said the expert. “They will not tolerate any interference in their illegal business because political parties are dependent on it. With elections coming up and with each candidate being promised funds over Rs 15 lakh for campaigning, the requirement for money is huge. With Bengal’s industry being in the doldrums, where else would so much money come from?” he asked.
These are ominous words. If drug barons are immune to the law because they provide funds, they would also be the first persons tapped when terror outfits need funding. This would affect national security and no amount of border fencing and high-tech weaponry will be able to prevent terror from striking. “That happened in Pathankot and it will happen in Bengal too,” warned the expert.
“Kaliachak was a mirror to this entire scenario,” he said. “Drugs have always come into the state from Bangladesh. In earlier days, Lalgola (Murshidabad) used to be the primary entry point. Now Malda has taken that position. While the South 24 Parganas district also sees huge human trafficking, drug cartels prefer Malda because there always remains the possibility of a trade with Nepal, which is nearby. Punjab is avoided by these cartels because it is ‘supplied’ through the northwest border. That cache also travels to Mumbai and Delhi,” he said. It is obvious that West Bengal needs to watch out before it hurtles towards a bleak future.