West Bengal: Eye on refugee votes, BJP calls for march to Marichjhapi island

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The BJP has set sights on bringing the alleged Marichjhapi refugee killings back into Bengal’s political spotlight.

Although the saffron party fell short of its expectations in the Assembly elections held earlier this year, it did manage to capture a sizeable chunk of refugee votes. Most of these voters are refugees or are kin of people who fled erstwhile East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) during its struggle for liberation.

Keen to consolidate the refugee vote bank with an eye on the next Lok Sabha elections, the BJP’s Scheduled Caste wing on Saturday announced ‘Marichjhapi Abhijan’ or a march to Marichjhapi, a tiny island nestling in the Sundarbans. The campaign will be kick-started on Monday.

It was earlier speculated that Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, Suvendu Adhikari would lead the march. However, sources in the BJP are now saying that the Nandigram MLA will lead the rally to be taken out by the party’s Scheduled Caste Morcha to press for a fresh investigation into the Marichjhapi killings.

Sudip Das, state president of the party’s Scheduled Caste Morcha, Agnimitra Pal, state general secretary of the BJP, and Devjit Sarkar, the party’s state spokesperson, will also visit the tiny Sundarbans island during the campaign.

The incident dates to the Left rule in 1979 when hundreds of migrant Hindus sheltered in the island where allegedly killed. Since the alleged massacre of refugees is said to have been carried out between January 24 and 31 of 1979, the BJP will launch its campaign on January 31.

While clarifying its stand on matters concerning refugees, the BJP will also highlight the alleged incident during the campaign.

Sudip Das, who is in charge of the campaign, said, “Many people are unaware of what happened 43 years ago. They also don’t know the true extent of the CPM’s atrocities. We want to remind people of that dark chapter.”

While the BJP wants to invoke the Marichhjhapi incident with an eye on polls, the Mamata government had already taken an initiative in commissioning a survey of where and how people who escaped the alleged massacre are now.

The BJP claims that the kin of several Marichjhapi survivors are based in Canning and Hingalganj in the South 24 Parganas district. In the coming days, the saffron party plans to find out if the survivors and their kin have access to government facilities and how they could be made beneficiaries of the Centre’s welfare projects.

Responding to the BJP’s call for ‘Marichjhapi Abhijan’, Trinamool Congress leader and Kolkata Mayor Firhad Hakim said, “Marichjhnapi is now a dead issue. What can the BJP gain by invoking it?”

Senior CPM leader Sujan Chakraborty said, “The Trinamool raised many demands surrounding the Marichjhapi incident but wasn’t able to prove anything in the last ten years. Now, the BJP is trying to do the same. But they will not be able to get anything out of it.”

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