West Bengal/Opinion : Communal Cauldron
Mamata’s politics of brazen Muslim appeasement has pushed the State towards a fundamentalist nightmare. Her outright denial about the situation is a matter of concern
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s blatant and brazen appeasement of Muslims in West Bengal has created a volatile situation unprecedented in the state’s history. Muslim there are a sizeable minority, about 27 per cent of the State’s population, but never has the State seen such radicalisation of this community as it has witnessed in recent days.
Since West Bengal has always been
Hindu-majority, it remained in India, much to the chagrin of the communal Muslim League which dreamt of imposing Pakistan on all Bengalis in 1947. Even in the communally-charged environment of Partition, West Bengali Muslims avoided being swayed by the League’s anti-Hindu rhetoric; for them, a Hindu-majority West Bengal—where they were locals—was home, Muslim-majority East Pakistan—where they were aliens—was not.
West Bengali Muslims—who had more in common with West Bengali Hindus than with East Bengali Muslims—gave more importance to culture and language even in 1947 and chose India. This difference in language and culture between West Bengali and East Bengali Muslims was sadly never understood by the rest of India; for them Bengalis were one
people with a single language and culture. The very act of West Bengali s in rejecting Pakistan is evidence that Bengalis were not
Things started changing after 1971. A large number of Bangladeshis, overwhelmingly Muslim, started entering India illegally, helped by inefficient and corrupt border patrolling. As a result, the Muslim population of certain border districts began increasing alarmingly, with Murshidabad, a district with an already sizeable number of native Moslems being officially declared Muslim-majority by the then Left Front Government. In fact, the Left Front found in these illegal Bangladeshi entrants a ready vote bank, rehabilitating them by
providing money, land, work and, most importantly, ration cards.
But West Bengal’s native Muslims got a raw deal from the Left Front. A small section among them, mostly landless peasants and marginal farmers,
supported the Left; the rest, consisting of the urban middle class and rural landlords (in Malda, Murshidabad, Barddhaman, and Birbhum),
traditionally supported and voted for the Congress. So did Urdu-speaking Muslims in Kolkata. Among the Muslim supporters of the Left Front were many small farmers whom the Left gave the right to land by way of Operation Barga. A new class of small and medium landlords rose in West Bengal as a result of this Left Front policy of official land-grabbing (which it successfully sold to the world as land reform).
But in the end both late Jyoti Basu and his successor Buddhadeb Bhattacharya duped their Muslim supporters: Basu acquired their lands successfully on which have come up the modern townships of Rajarhat and Kolkata New Town; Bhattacharya unsuccessfully attempted to seize their lands in Singur and Nandigram. In fact, the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind fought against police atrocities and administrative brutality in Nandigram shoulder to
shoulder with Mamata’s Trinamool.
As the Congress declined in the State, there was now only one option for these aggrieved poor Muslims: the Trinamool. The politically astute Mamata aimed at not only their votes, but also the votes of those traditional Congress supporters of middle and upper class Muslims. Unfortunately for the State, she also wanted to net the votes of illegal Bangladeshi migrants already naturalised as citizens.
Once in power, there was no stopping for her. It was clear from the results of the 2011 Assembly elections that not all Muslims in the State had voted for her. With consolidation of the Muslim vote bank uppermost in her mind, she now started offering sop after sop to the community, from modernising Madarsas to granting monthly salaries to maulvis. Huge larger-than-life hoardings of Mamata, with her pallu worn in the Muslim style and hands cupped in prayer, came up all over the State.
Also to come up all over West Bengal—especially in the border districts—were new mosques built with Bangladeshi money. The State was seeing unprecedented radicalisation originating in these mosques, and this new wave of radical Islam had reached even interior districts like Birbhum and Barddhaman. The situation was dangerous to say the least, much worse than the communally-charged days of 1947: during Partition, it was only communalism of the Muslim League that afflicted the state; now it was radical Islam fostered by terrorist organisations based in Bangladesh.
Mamata Banerjee, with an eye on becoming Prime Minister in 2019, is at the moment obsessed with cultivating a “secular” (read pro-Muslim) image for herself. Hindus in the State have been caught unaware and unprepared, never having witnessed communal violence and Islamic radicalisation in their lives. No party in West Bengal, barring the BJP, has come to their rescue. Unfortunately for them, the BJP has only limited presence in the State. Nor is the “secular” media sympathetic. In fact, the “secular” intelligentsia, which was up in arms against the NDTV ban, was absolutely silent when the State government filed an FIR against Zee News correspondents for reporting on the recent Dhulagarh (Howrah district) anti-Hindu carnage. Worse, the media in the nation’s capital did not find it prudent to question Mamata on Dhulagarh during a recent news
A communal cauldron is boiling in West Bengal. Worse, this time the fires are being stoked by radical Islamists and a colluding State Government. Neither during Congress rule nor in the Left Front days had the state faced such a catastrophe. Mamata Banerjee, who had started cultivating a pro-Muslim image by opposing TADA (Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Prevention Act, 1985), has brought the State to the brink of an anti-Hindu holocaust. It was because of West Bengal and its Muslims that the Moslem League’s communal dream of a Pakistan on the entire province did not materialise. Unfortunately, because of Mamata and her politics of brazen Muslim appeasement, the State is now heading towards a fundamentalist nightmare of Islamic reunification of both sides of Bengals.
(The writer is Assistant Professor in United States Studies, School of International Studies, JNU, New Delhi)