Mamata’s Imam issue boomeranged
Asim Kumar Mitra
Didi did not conceive of such a situation might have arisen while declaring monthly stipends to the Imams of mosques of the state. Didi, the Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee, knew it very well that the majority community will come down on the decision with severe criticism and she had planned beforehand how to tackle the situation with the majority community. So she was not so much perturbed with the protestations coming from the majority community.
But she was really taken aback when she found that almost the whole of Muslim community of not only this state but whole of the country has gone against this particular decision taken by her. Md. Ali of Lucknow Seminary had declared in a statement saying who she to interfere with our religious system is. Because Mosque Authority is solely authorised to pay the money to the Imams in the form of remuneration or honourarium and no other person or organisation is entitled to do this job. Hence Muslims will not tolerate interference by the West Bengal government in this regard. Very big group of Muslims in the state follow the dictum of Lucknow Seminary. So they had separated themselves from the ‘Aam’ Muslims. In this connection one point should be kept in mind that the state government is not directly paying the money to Imams. They are paying the stipends through the Waqf Board.
Siddiqullah Chowdhury of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, had already started their movement against the government decision as they think that ‘government-money’ is mixed with ‘interest-money’ which they earn and Islam gives no permission to accept money earned by interest.
There are two more groups who have differed from the decision of the government of paying Imams a monthly remuneration. Nevertheless there is a very big group of Muslims who not only support the government-decision but they had taken a vow that they would stand by the government and the ruling party in this matter come what may. But the fact remains that the Muslim house is visibly and totally divided on this point which is definitely a serious set back in the vote bank politics and that too just before the Panchayat elections which is round the corner.
When Mamata thought doling out of stipend to imams of the mosques in the state the government had got an idea through the Muslim leaders’ estimation that there would be around sixty thousand mosques in the state. It had meant that if on an average there were two Imams in each mosque then there would be in total one lakh twenty thousand imams in the state. But when the actual assessment had taken place the total figure of imams came down to around thirty thousand.
On the basis of this figure applications were invited and it is said that in all 15,125 were submitted by the imams and after scrutiny it is found that 14,825 applications are valid.
Quoting a reliable source an official in the Waqf Board office said that the total money paid to the Board for disbursement on this account is Rs. 5, 80,69,525/-. It could not be conclusively confirmed whether all the money given by the government have already been disbursed to the individual imam or not. Another important fact in this connection should be mentioned that from the districts of Jalpaiguri and Nadia not a single application has been submitted.
Mamata Banerjee, a shrewd politician, had already appointed Shahrukh Khan as “Brand Ambassador” of the state to win over the Muslim sentiments. Initially this was not so much vindicated. But when Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) became a finalist in the IPLT20 cricket match in the Muslim infested areas of rural Bengal had given it a communal colour although there was nothing communal in this game. On the day of Final game (27th May, 2012) it was found that in all the Muslim majority areas of the rural Bengal are fitted with broad screen-TV sets organised by local Muslim clubs or institutions. As Shahrukh Khan is the co-owner of the KKR team, Mamata on her part had tried to utilise the victory of KKR over CSK as a damage control mechanism to repair the erosion of Muslim sentiment on her side on account of Imam issue.