The recent communal tension in the Baduria-Basirhat areas of West Bengal drew sharp criticism from the Right. The Right accused Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee of appeasing a particular community. From the BJP and RSS leaders in West Bengal to the ‘liberal’ and ‘modern’ Indians on Facebook and other social media, people thought she was taking part in ‘appeasement’ politics.
However, the real question is: Is she really trying to ‘appease’ a particular community? And if she is, then does it benefit Bengal or harm it? How should you look at the recent communal tension which hit a poor district close to the Bangladesh border?
First, we have to understand how we are looking at Mamata Banerjee and the Bengal violence. Is it through biased media channels like Zee News and others? Through mainstream media like The Hindu, Times of India, etc? Or through Facebook pages where we have ‘liked’ different religious groups such as “People of so and so religion wake up”.
Mamata is not the only leader who has been accused of appealing to people belonging to a particular religion. Gandhi, Nehru, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, Kerala CM Vijayan, Telangana Chief Minister Chandrasekhar Rao have been accused of ‘appeasement’ politics as well.
Political parties tend to safeguard and provide security to some communities. Many people tend to see this as ‘appeasement’. In the case of Bengal, this select community happens to be Muslim. Now, many see Muslims as ‘enemies’. We have to understand the situation carefully. People accuse Mamata of ‘appeasing’ a particular community as if she is ‘appeasing’ enemies. What is the reason for such a sentiment? Are these not tactics which are being used to exclude Muslims from the mainstream idea of a unified India? Is this not the way in which Muslims are being targeted and harassed time and again? Describing the actions of a particular politician of ‘appeasement’ to a particular community is a reflection of an anti-Muslim sentiment, which is not very uncommon in present day India.
On the other hand, only 27.01% of the population, scattered throughout West Bengal consists of Muslims. Whereas, more than 70% of the population consists of Hindus. Muslims do not have all the power or even an upper hand in West Bengal. As a result, ‘appeasing’ only one particular community would not lead to a huge victory in the state elections. And Mamata as a politician is very well aware of this fact.
In this context, we have to understand that if one politician is ‘appeasing’ a particular community, what is the community getting from the government? The majority of the Muslim population in the tension hit North 24 Parganas and in the state of West Bengal live below the poverty line, with a low percentage of people having access to education. Muslims in West Bengal have been victims of political games with parties like the Congress, CPI (M) and TMC playing with them like a football. The vote bank shifts to the side which woos their mind. Since the time when the Left Front government established The West Bengal Minorities Development and Finance Corporation in 1996, an attempt was made to empower the Muslim community with various student scholarships, loan schemes, skill developments, etc. but very slowly.
When TMC won the 2011 state elections, WBMDFC started working very fast, providing thousands of scholarships to minority students. Some Bengalis, particularly the youth, found it very partial when they came to know about the minority reservations and scholarships provided to minorities.
The Basirhat communal tension once again reminds Muslims in West Bengal, that they are the eternal victim of politics and discrimination. From the pre-independence era, it is a well-known fact that the Muslim community in Bengal is less educated and backward. Partition was the game of politicians, but the poor Muslims in West Bengal ( and in fact in other parts of India) are still held responsible. Muslims are constantly taunted and harassed on the issue.
There have been many instances when their lands and properties have been acquired forcefully. But by and large, West Bengal remained peaceful except in the year 1964 and in a few other cases. In the wake of Modi and BJP at the Centre, extremists started attacking Muslims much more openly and violently.
Mamata is one of the politicians who is strictly secular in spite of her past relationship with the BJP and she has remained a favourite of the Muslim community for so many reasons. Her strict secular ideology, open mindedness to communicate with the people of the religion and various promises made her popular among Muslims. Right wing extremists disliked Mamata strongly and started defaming her as it was done against Gandhi, Nehru, Kejriwal and other politicians.
Terming Mamata as an ‘appeaser’ is an indirect expression of intolerance towards the Muslim community. It is a reflection of a long preserved prejudice against a community which is seen as alien. Therefore, we must be sure of what we mean when we accuse a politician of ‘appeasing’ a particular community. Muslims in India alone, don’t have the power to make major political changes and bring about changes they want. They will remain under the shadow of politicians and will be played like footballs until secular politicians begin to treat them as equal to others, not as vote banks.
The Baduria incident started on July 2, 2017. Thousands of people attacked the house of a 17-year-old boy, who had allegedly posted an offensive image on Facebook. The situation soon went out of control as a large mob gathered around Rudrapur where the boy’s school is located. He was arrested sometime that night.
Next morning, an angry mob gathered around the Baduria police station demanding the boy to be handed over or to be hanged and damaged police property. Mamata Banerjee did not want to respond with violence but soon, ordered the officials to take immediate actions against those who violated the law. She was foresighted enough to understand what would’ve happened if she had given orders to shoot. “Police firing would have led to the deaths of many people” she stated.
But BJP and other liberals are criticising her for not ordering strict action. Some even accused the state government of trying to hide the situation. What would have happened if the police opened fire on them? Would Mamata Banerjee have given such an order if people belonged to the Hindu community? I don’t think so. Can we blame Mamata of ‘appeasing’ a particular community in such cases?
Therefore, we need to rethink our stand in national politics before accusing Mamata, Kejriwal and others of ‘appeasing’ a particular community at a time when minorities are being targeted, freedom of speech is under threat and communal forces are gaining power by influencing the mass in the name of religion.