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Mamata Banerjee must stop playing politics and focus on governance to remain in picture
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who launched a “throat-slitting” self-defence after the Calcutta High Court cancelled her Government’s order on withholding Durga idol immersions on Muharram, may have just misfired her guns. The order is the culmination of popular discomfort in Bengal and Kolkata in particular about her minority appeasement being stretched too far, in this case the Durga puja, which anyway is an eclectic and celebratory community affair. It is a cultural jamboree for all rather than being just a Hindu festival. History shows how the Bengal zamindars, through a community puja, not only empowered their subjects but made them stakeholders as its organisers. In the Nawaabi era, Muslim rulers patronised aristocrat pujas. In that sense, Durga puja is indeed Bengal’s most secular event with a public ownership. Perhaps Didi is not aware that a prominent Muslim club in Kolkata itself organises one of the cult pujas. By consciously trying to drive a sectarian wedge for the last few years — stopping idol immersions on Muharram, which almost always follows Vijaya Dashami — she has stretched her limits of political tokenism to imbecile proportions. In her zeal to uphold secular traditions, she has ended up looking like a zealot herself. The Left, for all its monolithic atheism, had never ever tampered with traditional practices of Durga Puja. During its reign, idol immersions and Muharram processions have happened simultaneously without any rioting or controversy. Maintaining law and order is a State subject and has nothing to do with a Right-winger agenda pushing Didi into a corner. It is not right to insinuate that the judiciary was biased. Had Banerjee furnished a credible report, based on State intelligence and police inputs, on her apprehension that parallel events of two communities could pose a serious security challenge, the court would not have ignored her concerns. In fact, it clarified that it would not go by imagined threat perceptions and allowed all religious groups the right to practice their rituals rather than undermining one at the cost of another.
Banerjee would do well to follow up on her advocacy of minority rights with solid programmes and policies for them on the ground. Last year’s status report, which was co-compiled by Amartya Sen, shows Muslims in Bengal are more deprived than their counterparts in other States. Eighty per cent of rural Muslims earn a salary of Rs 5,000 a month, hovering close to the poverty line. Yet the budget allocation by the Banerjee regime has been five times more than the Left Front and has rarely translated beyond the symbolism of setting up more Haj houses. Sure, the BJP is trying to make inroads in the State. But its job is being made easy by Banerjee herself. By appointing a minority representative as a head of a Hindu shrine or stopping immersions on Muharram, she has upset moderates and even the Bengali bhadralok, who have so far been a silent majority. By responding to BJP’s every move with a pictorial trope of subverting everything Hindu, Banerjee must realise that she cannot afford an immature, Opposition-style slanging match if she wants to be in the big picture.
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