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West Bengal Govt.’s order on Idol Immersion- Vote Bank Politics Again?

Paper No. 6316                               Dated 24-Oct-2017

By R. Upadhyay     

The West Bengal Government’s intervention in the ritual of the immersion of Goddess Durga idol on the day when it coincided with the Moharram procession of Muslims and subsequent orders of the Kolkata High Court countermanding it shows that the minority politics (read vote bank politics) is growing strong even in a progressive State like West Bengal.

The move of West Bengal Government has certainly enthused the minorities who form 30 percent of the population and in the long term may prove to be a major socio cultural challenge in the region.

Before partition united Bengal was a Muslim –majority state and the All India Muslim League demanded its inclusion in Pakistan. But alarmed by the violent incidents in  Calcutta and Noakhali in 1946 under a Muslim League controlled provincial government headed by Suhrawardhy, nationalist leaders like Shyama Prasad Mukherjee and others demanded  for the bifurcation of the State with a Hindu-majority western region and a Muslim majority of east. 

Partition adversely affected the political supremacy of the Islamists in Bengal. Infiltration of co-religionists continued apace in West Bengal and what is more they were quietly absorbed despite official objections and efforts to stop infiltration were feeble. It looked that the attempt was to outnumber the local population selectively in the border regions. 

In spite of absorbing millions of Hindu refugees from East Pakistan, the Hindu population of West Bengal which was 78.45 % in 1951 census was reduced to 72.47% in 2001 and might have gone down to nearly 70% by now. On the other hand the Muslim population which was only 19.85% in 1951 gradually shot up to 27% in 2011 and is over 30% today.  West Bengal is known as the land of left-liberal intelligentsia including the academicians, human right activists and professionals but they always appeared to look the other way when it came to infiltration from the erstwhile East Pakistan and now Bangladesh. Their indifference and failure to object or stop infiltration has resulted in the minority now having control over 70 of the 294 constituencies and having a decisive say in the outcome of a substantial number of other constituencies.

Apart from encouraging infiltration from Bangladesh the community, it is now strongly recommending the rehabilitation of Rohingyas from Myanmar. An Islamic cleric in a meeting lauded - “Ham hussaini Musalman hain, Ham bahattar, lakhon kaa janaza nikal sakte hain”. (We are Hussaini Muslims and we seventy two can kill lakhs). He was addressing a large gathering of the community in support of rehabilitation of Rohingyas.  It was an appalling threat that cannot be taken lightly.  One should recall an incident just less than a decade after partition when the community protested over the publication of a book on the biography of Prophet Mohammad with the foreword written by K.M.Munshi and published by Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan in 1956. “The challenging and desperate mood of some of the speakers” was the first aggressive political assertion of Muslims in West Bengal after partition. One speaker said, “Muslims were not at the mercy of Nehru and they considered themselves free” (‘The Spoils of Partition’ by Joya Chatterjee, Cambridge University Press, 2007, page 200).

Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee became the Chief Minister of this state after 34 years of Marxist rule. People must have expected an overall change in the prevailing political environment which also included freedom from vote bank politics. But it was not to be.  Instead of leading West Bengal in a developmental direction she is carrying forward the legacy of unbridled appeasement started initially by the Congress and later perfected by the Marxists.  She is widely known for her financial integrity and simplicity but the fact remains that she has also succumbed to the vote bank politics. The West Bengal Government is known for its past record of condoning the perpetrators of communal violence like announcing stipends for Imams, with ministers participating in a AIMPLB rally on the triple talaq issue, when the matter was still under the apex court’s consideration and silence and failure to act over various controversial statements of Islamist like Noor-ur-Rehman Barkati who dared to declare a prize to anyone who could blacken the face of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Government had even turned a blind eye to Maulana Nasser Sheikh’s demand for banning TV, music, photography and interaction with Kafirs at Kebala, a small town near Harishchandrapur in Malda district. In blatant disregard to secular state values, the government has provided honorariums to Imams and Muezzins from State government funds.

The height of it all was the Government’s prohibition of immersion of idols after 4 PM to accommodate Muharram processions, disregarding the common Bengalis’ attachment to the festivities. The Calcutta High Court, in a scathing indictment, called the government order banning immersion procession an act to “appease the minority section of the public”.

Before the High Court intervened there was scarcely any objection from the left-liberal enlightened Bengali intelligentsia of this culturally enriched state. For that matter, there were no visible protests from any section of the public. Have they all been subsumed by the minority politics?  Have they lost their cultural roots and traditions?  Should the courts have to intervene to maintain sanity?

Against the backdrop of the lurking dark future of the rich socio-cultural tradition of this state Mamta Banerjee has maintained close ties with religious Muslim leaders about whom Kazi Abdul Wadud (1894-1970), founder of a radical rational humanist movement in Bengal remarked - “Even today, Muslim religious leaders are a group of destitute who are habitually illogical, immoral, even ignorant of religion (Understanding Bengal Muslims –Edited by Rafiuddin Ahmad, Oxford 2001, page 165).

It is time the West Bengal leaders give up “vote bank politics”.