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Malda riot: Mamata's Muslim appeasement is coming back to haunt her

Sourjya Bhowmick | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:11 IST

The riot

  • On Sunday a mob of 2.5 lakh people led by the Idara-e-Shariya went on a rampage in Malda
  • They were protesting a Hindu Mahasabha leader\'s remarks against the Prophet

The politics

  • Muslim extremists have become increasingly beligerent under Mamata Banerjee\'s rule
  • Earlier a Madrasa teacher was allegedly beaten up for making students sing the national anthem

More in the story

  • What\'s the reason behind Mamata\'s appeasement policy?
  • What are its consequences?
  • Will this help the BJP?

The Sujapur area in the Muslim dominated Malda district of West Bengal was gripped by fear on Sunday.

Around 2.5 lakh people, under the banner of Idara-e-Shariya, blocked the National Highway 34 to protest against Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha leader Kamlesh Tiwari's remarks against Prophet Muhammad. .

The mob set fire to a North Bengal State Transport Corporation bus that was passing through and torched a dozen police vehicles, including a Border Security Force jeep. A police station and Block Development Officer's office were also ransacked.

Read: Mamata has created a Frankenstein monster with her Muslim appeasement politics, says Taslima Nasreen

According to media reports, police officers were injured in the clash and one RSS activist was shot.

This sudden burst of violence has left many bewildered.

"There was no agitation even after the Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013. However, this protest was against a comment made nearly a month back and hundreds of kilometres away. This is a clear indication that there was some political motive," says a political observer, based out of Kolkata.

This is not the only incident of violence by hardline Muslim obscurantists.

Recently, Kazi Masum Akhtar, the headmaster of Talpukur Aara High Madarsa in Kolkata, was allegedly assaulted by some clerics and their followers, for asking students to sing the national anthem on Republic Day.

West Bengal has witnessed a spike in communal violence during Mamata Banerjee's tenure. There have been the infamous Canning and Deganga Riots and communal incidents increased to 106 in 2013. The previous five years witnessed about 12-40 communal incidents.

Mamata understood the importance of Muslim support during the Nandigram agitation in 2007

Many attribute the recent belligerence of Muslim hardliners in West Bengal to the politics of appeasement played by Mamata ever since she came to power.

Is there any appeasement? If yes, what are the dangers? What are her political compulsions? Has her slogan of Maa Mati Manush taken a back seat?

"When she came to power the entire state was behind her. Now her administration has failed to meet expectations. With the elections approaching, she is now relying on the 30% Muslim vote to come back to power. (Muslim votes are a deciding factor in 120-125 seats) She is also relying on the muscle power provided by some Muslim leaders and clerics. She has created a Frankenstein Monster through her policies," says a source close to the government.

Mamata's Muslim outreach

Mamata understood the importance of Muslim support during the Nandigram agitation in 2007.During the police firings and eventual CPI(M) 'recapture' of the region, the area's Muslims swayed in Mamata's favour.

Mamata cemented this approach after the suspicious death of Rizwanur Rehman in 2009. It was alleged that he committed suicide after being threatened and mentally tortured by top police officials of the state, who were close to the Left Front government.

Also read- #BengalElections: Mamata replaces Ma Maati Manush with Muslims

Mamata saw an opportunity and turned the heat on the Left government, campaigning for justice for Rizwanur, and thus becoming a hero for the community.

During the 2011 Assembly elections, Mamata furthered her support by naming Feroza Bibi (mother of a person killed in Nandigram) and Rizwanur's brother as candidates. Both of them won.

In both these cases, Mamata was highlighting genuine cases of injustice against the community. But at some point this robust championing of Muslims transformed into cynical appeasement.

In April 2012, she announced an allowance of Rs 2,500 for each imam. Later, a stipend of Rs 1,500 was also extended to thousands of muezzins who give the call to prayer in mosques.

In 2013, the Calcutta High Court rejected the decision stating that it violates Articles 14 and 15/1 of the Constitution, which says that the state shall not discriminate against any citizen on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. However, it was decided that the money will be routed through Wakf Boards.

Kazi Masum Akhtar, a madrasa headmaster, was assaulted for making students sing the national anthem

Next, the government banned the telecast of a drama series scripted by Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen after some Muslim fundamentalists raised objections and banned Salman Rushdie from coming to Kolkata. More surprisingly, Urdu was made the second official language in districts where Muslims comprise more than 10% of the population.

"It is a common allegation that appeasement leads to law and order abuse in India. However, what Mamata is doing is a direct attack on secularism. Bengal is slowly becoming a multiple theocracy", says Satyabrata Chakraborty a former professor of political science at Calcutta University.

He is referring to the imam allowance as well as the state funding for Durga Puja committees. These days, even Chhat Puja is celebrated with political patronage. The motive isn't just votes, but muscle power during elections.

"Muslim leaders who hold sway over a section of the Muslim masses, will never let Mamata take them for granted. They have figured out that as soon as they criticise her, she will announce a few sops," said a source.

However, many prominent Muslim leaders like Toha Siddiqui, Siddiqullah Chowdhury, IPS officer Nazrul Islam and renegade left leader Abdur Razzaq Mollah have severely criticised Mamata for failing to deliver on her promises.

Mamata's sops have been called "Rajiv Gandhi package". Gandhi, who was Mamata's mentor, is known to have pursued a policy of appeasement towards both Hindu and Muslim extremists.

What do "Muslim leaders" get?

The answer is lucrative business, especially in Kolkata. There are allegations that Muslim dominated regions of Kolkata like Metiaburz, Rajabazar, Khidderpore, Park Circus are seeing a spike in illegal construction and land grabbing by real estate players with political links. Sometimes even government land isn't spared. The authorities and the police remain silent spectators.

Read more- Danger games: Muslims & Mamata's communal play in Bengal

As one advocate at the Calcutta High Court puts it, "there is a lot of money to be made".

The CPI(M) has alleged that TMC Rajya Sabha MP Ahmed Hassan Imran is a front man for the banned terrorist organisation Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh and was a leader of the banned Students' Islamic Movement of India.

He is also said to have got loans worth crores of rupees from Saradha company, which were allegedly used to destablise the Sheikh Hasina government in Bangladesh.

Chakraborty feels that Mamata's style of politics, though dangerous, lacks vision. Her policies are directed towards the individual (like giving out bicycles to Muslim students, rather than building a school or a road in a Muslim dominated region) or the superficial, like renaming of Aliah University to Aliah Madrassa University.

Otherwise, her policies are based on polarisation - from sealing Namashudra votes in North 24 Parganas to consolidating Muslim votes and creating a rift between Gorkha activists in the Darjeeling region.

Run-up to the elections

As of now, Mamata seems all set to win the Assembly elections. Then why is she depending on muscle power and polarisation?

"It must be noted that no one can challenge her apart from her own party workers. She is failing on the governance front, she hasn't fulfilled many promises and there is tremendous infighting in her party. Probably there are some trust issues as well," concludes Chakraborty.

Communal violence has increased during Mamata's tenure. There were 106 incidents in 2013

The future, he says, is economic decay, low values, socio-political anarchy, and more street violence.

But will this benefit the BJP?

"West Bengal is a border state. And BJP has a presence in all border states. Till now they could not make an impact because of the left political discourse prevalent in the state. However, Mamata's polarisation politics will definitely help the BJP's agenda of majority consolidation in the long run" explains Zaad Mahmood, Assistant Professor, Political Science, Presidency University.

Catch tried to reach out to several TMC leaders for a response, but there was no response till the story was published.

However, it is clear, Mamata Banerjee is playing with fire.

More in Catch:

Mamata attending Jamiat-e Ulama's Conference shows how polarised Bengal elections are going to be

Name one thing common between BJP and Congress: Foreign funds
First published: 7 January 2016, 8:53 IST
Sourjya Bhowmick @sourjyabhowmick

Born and raised in Kolkata, Sourjya is all about the numbers. He uses data to contextualise stories on a broad range of topics. Formerly with the Hindustan Times and IndiaSpend, any time not spent researching and writing is spent reading non-fiction and tackling his unending collection of films. An alumnus of Presidency College, Kolkata, he has a post-grad degree in Political Science from Calcutta University and was actively involved in student politics. He's a fan of Tintin comics, Germany's football team, Mohun Bagan and Old Monk.