The massive win-over by the Trinamul Congress in the last Panchayat elections in West Bengal followed by the subsequent Municipal by-elections boosted Mamata Banerjee to be the one and the only God Mother of the Muslim community in Bengal. The abundance in the appeasement in all possible ways, Mamata Banerjee now finds no limit or don’t bother any criticism from any quarter. Mamata, sorry! Mamata Devi now sees green, speaks green, eats green, dreams green and now she is in her enjoyable normal green cycles.
On the other hand, in an effort to reclaim the vital Muslim vote in Bengal Indian Marxists are slipping, as quietly as they can manage, from the shackles of class as the primary identity of the Indian voter and easing into the wider space of creed. This may make them less Marxist, but it might make them more Indian. Oops! But the story was not like that. The big story in Bengal since the impressive re-election of the Left Front about four years ago is the implosion of Muslim support for the CPM. Twenty-nine per cent of Bengal is Muslim, the highest, by far, percentage of any State. Since Muslims tend to poll in higher numbers, their effective voting strength is probably a few points more. If they desert the Marxists in significant numbers in the present trend, the Left could lose up more than 50 per cent seats in the next Assembly elections in Bengal in 2011. If the momentum sustains, it could lose power in the State after three unique decades. Evidence of what happened in the last summer’s panchayat elections, the rural Muslim vote shifted to Mamata Banerjee across wide swathes, particularly in south Bengal. Really the situation is now totally changed.
The Red Flag of Bengal is now torn between the Marxist and the Maoist by and large. The Marxists are now busy repairing the walls of ‘Fortress Bengal’, but the colour of the cement is no longer uniformly red. It is tinged with green. The incandescent alliance between Obama, Brown, Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh has provided an opportunity. The Left has begun to participate in conferences against American imperialism sponsored by overtly Muslim organisations. The
juxtaposition of the crescent beside the hammer, sickle and star is the gift of the Prime Minister who publicly celebrated his liberation from the “slavery” of the Marxists after he decided that Bush was a much better ally than Prakash Karat. And the new friendship with Obama and Hatoyama is not changeable under any pressure from the Marxists.
As the Central Government and TMC in the Cabinet Ministry upholds the recommendations of Rajinder Sachar Committee toward limitless appeasement of Muslims, no way is left for Bengal CPI(M) to be pro-Muslim more than TMC and Congress here.
The picture is now very clear. Traditional Marxist analysis has been unambiguous: class matters more than creed. Bread has no religion; dignity is the right of the poor. This has been a powerful foundation of electoral mobilisation in as complex a State as Bengal. But the rapidly changing fans face of communal Bengal has triggered the change in election and propaganda strategy in Bengal CPI(M). The Muslim comrades from Muslim populace is now considered in a higher value in their inner politics. Precisely because the Left has ensured communal peace we forget what a tinderbox Bengal was, and can be. Like Punjab, Bengal is a border State traumatised by Partition. It has had to absorb refugees who brought with them a tortured narrative of bitterness and exile. Having fled from Bangladeshi Muslims, it is galling for East Bengali Hindus, with their traditionally superior sense of superiority, to discover that they have to deal with politically assertive, if financially broken, Muslims in the land of refuge. The ‘escape’ has been, if you like, ‘inadequate’ compared to Punjab where there was a near-complete exchange of populations. But now the Bengali Hindu refugee comrades are less important than their Muslim counterparts including the illegal Muslim migrants from Bangladesh. Consequently the CPM umbrella “chatrachaya” wants to cover the security and supremacy of Muslim muscle power, to give Muslims jobs, or basic amenities like schools and healthcare in rural Bengal including the non secular madrasa education and shariyati local judicial system in full swing. They thought protection was enough to secure the Muslim vote permanently but they now want to be “kalpataru” (wish-yielding tree) to Muslim community at any cost. This contest between TMC and CPI(M), made the Muslim key men to trump the card of Muslim politics.
“This was the policy of ‘soft secularism’: keep the peace and let Muslims fend for themselves. This has been challenged by the emergence of post-Partition generations who claim security as their inalienable right as Indian citizens, and are no longer willing to treat it as some special favour. They are angry, for they believe that they have become victims of a more subtle form of discrimination, economic communalism. Bengal’s Muslims feel increasingly cheated by a party they trusted without reserve.”
“Curiously, the moment of revelation came with the publication of a report that the Left initially welcomed, the findings of the Sachar Committee. It showed that Bengal’s Muslims had received less patronage and benefits from the State than even in Gujarat. The comparison, as can be easily deduced, was inflammatory. Nor could Justice Rajinder Sachar be dismissed as a BJP acolyte. His report was the hammer that cracked the awesome CPM edifice even more effectively than the anger of Muslim peasant-farmers defending their land in Singur and Nandigram. Mamata Banerjee stepped in at a psychologically vulnerable moment.”
“Sometimes it takes one incident to symbolise and set-off a larger rage. Urban Muslims, who are mainly Bihari ethnically, have been incensed by the insensitive manner in which the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee administration has handled the case of a young Kolkata boy, Rizwan, who fell in love with and married the daughter of a Marwari businessman with a less than upright reputation. He was found dead a little after the romantic rich-girl-poor-boy wedding. Civil society rose up in a remarkable protest that stretched across the narrow confines of community in the belief that he had been murdered and that the police had been bribed into a cover-up. The chief minister sent too many signals indicating that he was on the side of the police rather than the voice of the people. Between Rizwan, Sachar and Nandigram, the CPM is in unprecedented trouble. A crisis can induce temporary alliances with unfamiliar bedfellows. The Left is reaching out, anxiously, to the Muslim clergy that it once disdained.” As such, Taslima Nasreen was driven out by the Bengal CPI(M) and State authority without punishing anybody who were the prime accused for 21/11 “Taslima Tadao” semi-riot of Kolkata in 2007. Mamata Banerjee did not spend any single word then in favour of Taslima for getting dividend from communal Muslims.
Is communal trend in Bengal politics a new thing to see? Or, is such shift from “Class to Creed” too late? The recuperative powers of even a comatose Marxist should not be underestimated. But this much is certain. Red has begun to bleed in its bastion. It needs more blood to survive. And the green poison gradually paralyses the secular politics and the power of free thinking in Bengal.
(The writer can be contacted at [email protected])