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Dangers of appeasement politics
It is not that Mamata Banerjee is not aware about the violence that has gripped her State. Surprisingly, instead of correcting her policies, she seems to be relying on administrative might
Along with common Bengalis’ yearning for development, it wasporibortan, the mood of Muslim peasantry, which brought Trinamool Congress (TMC ) chief Mamata Banerjee to power in 2011. From providing allowances to the clerics, to giving free run to the rioters, to setting the time limit for Durga idol immersion, to denying permission to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-Bharatiya Janata Party (RSS-BJP) leaders’ meeting in Bengal — Banerjee is leaving no stone unturned to woo the Muslim community, which constitutes around 30 per cent of the State’s population. So, their support is crucial for her, especially in the districts of south Bengal.
In April 2012, Banerjee announced an allowance of Rs 2,500 for the Imams and Rs 1,500 to muezzins, on the cost of Rs 126 crore, annually, to the State exchequer. Today, more than 97 per cent of the State’s Muslim population has been recognised as Other Backward Classes; and compared to the last term of the Left Front Government and the first term of Mamata Banerjee Government, there has been five-fold jump in budget allocation for the minority affairs, which is proposed to be Rs 2,500 crore in 2016-17.
But what is more dangerous than these economic sops are the inclusion of conservative elements in the party as well as in the Government and the rise in communal incidents — between 12 and 40 for five years untill 2012 to 106 in 2013. The Canning riot happened in the same year. Rajat Roy writes, “The inclusion of a prominent leader of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind, Siddiqullah Chowdhury, in the TMC Ministry and sending Idris Ali (from the Basirhat constituency) to the Lok Sabha are also indicative”.
Both were actively involved in Kolkata riots of 2008, demanding the expulsion of Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen from Kolkata. Illegal migration from Bangladesh is going unchecked; and when in March 2013, Islamist organisations rallied nearly one lakh people in Kolkata, to protest the trial of 1971 war criminals in Bangladesh, senior Ministers of the Mamata Banerjee Government were also party in it.
Even while Banerjee takes utmost care to prevent the news of rioting and arsons going in the media or becoming a national headline, whatever reports come out are sufficient to tell us that the state in Bengal seems to be delegated its monopoly over violence in return of votes. In July, Baduria in North 24 Parganas witnessed large-scale arson and rioting following a Facebook post which Muslims found to be offensive. The juvenile, alleged of posting, had already been arrested but a mob surrounded the police station, demanding that “the juvenile be handed over to them so that they can punish him according to Sharia’h”.
In January 2016, 1.5 lakh Muslims assembled near Kaliachak taxi stand, Malda, demanding death for Kamlesh Tiwari, a leader associated with the Hindu Mahasabha; a resident of Uttar Pradesh who was already booked by the National Security Agency for his derogatory remarks. The mob, instigated by some leaders, blocked the roads, ransacked and torched the vehicles, of not just civilians but even of the police and the Border Security Force (BSF). Later, they set the police station on fire, selectively attacked Hindu houses and shops and damaged the properties.
In the pursuit of votes, the TMC Government does not even hesitate to interfer in the religious practices of the Hindus. In a re-run of last year, this year again, a restriction has been imposed on Durga idol immersion, which generally starts with Dashami, the 10th day of Ashvin month, as per the Hindu calendar. This year, it is set for September 30. But because processions or tazias, to mark Muharram on October 1 would begin on the same evening, there will not be any idol immersion after 6 pm till October 1, the immersion will resume from Oct 2.
The blatant communalism by the TMC was also noted by Justice Dipankar Dutta, sitting Justice of the Calcutta High Court, who, while passing an order on October 6, 2016 said, “There has been a clear endeavour on the part of the State Government to pamper and appease the minority section of the public at the cost of the majority section without there being any plausible justification”. This is not only damaging the State’s social fabric but is also causing resentment among the common Bengalis.
BR Ambedkar, in the second edition of his book, Pakistan or the partition of India, wrote, “Appeasement sets no limits to the demands and aspirations of the aggressor. Appeasement means buying off the aggressor by conniving at his acts of murder, rape, arson and loot against innocent persons who happen for the moment to be the victims of his displeasure”.
Ambedkar emphasised on a true secular democracy, where ideal condition is that the state, or the people representing the state, be impartial while dealing with the subjects of the state. But it is not that for the first time that Bengal is witnessing communal politics, the communists constantly reinforced religious-communal identity, compelling the Muslims to think, act and vote as Muslims, but the classic example of appeasement is being set by the present TMC Government.
Banerjee has a comfortable 44.9 per cent vote share — her party won 211 seats of the 294 seats in the Assembly — but signs of reverse polarisation are emerging. Even as in last year’s Assembly election, the BJP’s vote share has come down to just over 10 per cent from nearly 17 per cent in the 2014 Lok Sabha poll, in the last few years, the number of the RSS shakhas (branches) in the State has grown from 256 to more than 1,200. And, as Minhaz Merchant, renowned journalist and writer says, “More Muslim-instigated riots like Basirhat and the growing fear that West Bengal is falling under the influence of Islamist radicalism could alter the electoral math in 2021”.
It is not that Banerjee is not aware of what is happening on the ground, but, most surprisingly, instead of countering politically and correcting her own policies, she seems to be relying on administrative might. There have been multiple occasions when the State Government had withheld permissions for the programme involving RSS-BJP leaders sighting futile reasons. The recent ones being the cancellation of allotment of Mahajati Sadan for a programme on October 3, where RSS sarsanghchalak (chief) Mohan Bhagwat would have been the key speaker and the refusal of reservation of Netaji Indoor Stadium where BJP’s State unit wanted to hold a rally during BJP chief Amit Shah’s visit to West Bengal between September 11-13.
The BJP dosen’t have the numbers in the Assembly, but is certainly a force to reckon with. Administrative measures may curb the visibility of the party but not the seriousness of the issue and if it manages to make appeasement as the central issue, it can certainly make the TMC uncomfortable facing the panchayat polls in the summer of 2018, in which more than 70 per cent of the total electorate of Bengal will be voting.
(The writer is a post-graduate student, Centre for Informal Sector and Labour studies, School of Social Sciences, JNU)
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