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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 6, New Delhi, January 23, 2021

Communalising Muslim politics is dangerous for Bengal’s social order | Arun Srivastav

Friday 22 January 2021

by Arun Srivastava

Brushing aside the suggestions of left and democratic parties, even the proposition of the CPI(ML) liberation, the CPI(M), big brother of the Indian Commuist parties has decided to enter into alliance with the Congress with the sole purpose of ensuring the defeat of Mamata Banerjee. The reason for opposing Mamata is debateable and cannot be justified from the Marxist point of view. It is the whim of some top state leaders of the party that prompted it to oppose Mamata, when the politics is taking a worse path in recent decades.

Some left intellectuals and expert would prefer to dismiss it as a mere absurd narrative but the fact cannot be denied that the top leadership of CPI(M) by refusing to direct the leaders of the state committee not to oppose the TMC in the assembly election are merely handing over West Bengal on gold platter to the BJP.

More than anyone else the general secretary Sitaram Yechuri is aware on the political strength of the Marxist party and of the political and ideological commitment of its leaders as well as the rank and file in the state. The state leaders blame Mamata Banerjee for the malaise that plagues the state. But they have never been able to explain why they have miserably failed to build a popular anti-Mamata movement in the state.

During a decade of the CPI(M)’s ouster from the power, the party has not succeed in retrieving its lost ground. They have no plausible answer why even today the CPI(M) workers and cadres are joining the BJP. The fact is the party has behaved like a ship lost in the deep sea. The leaders are delinked from the Marxist ideology and of late have been focussing, according to a report of the state unit, on the religion and religious activities.

The least said about the Congress is better. It is a rudderless party and depends on the charisma of its local leader Adhir Choudhary, more than the magnetism of Rahul Gandhi. Their keenness to forge alliance could be made out. They want to come to the centre stage of the state politics. But the political compulsion of the CPI(M) could not be comprehended. It is absolutely clear that the state CPI(M) leaders treat Mamata as their personal enemy than a political rival. Their differences with Mamata Banerjee is more of personal nature than ideological. Their claim of winning the election is simply preposterous.

In 2016, the CPI(M) and Congress entered into an alliance with the vow to uproot the Trinamul, but the electoral experiment had failed. The combine had bagged only 76 seats, with the Congress winning 44 seats and the Left 32 seats. In 2021 the situation is more against them. The opposition space has been filled by the BJP. Their claim to win the election simply underlines the political bankruptcy of the left especially the CPI(M).

Left parties and some left academics and intellectuals have launched a campaign– No Vote to BJP— under the forum ‘Bengal against Fascist RSS-BJP’. Do they really believe that their campaign will have any impact on the voters and refrain them from voting for the BJP? Whom they are trying to fool by resorting to such gimmicks. Their move makes it explicit that they have decided not to take lessons from the political developments and the ground realities that have surfaced in the recent past. When they would come to realise that BJP has communalised the citizens divided the society? Barely a decade back the support base of BJP was mere 2 per cent now it has 26 per cent of committed voters

How could a person like Biman Bose, who has been the chairman of the Left Front ignore the fact that the BJP is on rise and is the second party, next to TMC? The so called indoctrinated CPI(M) cadres who had switched over to the TMC in 2011, today form the backbone of the BJP in Bengal. In the wake of CPI(M) workers and cadres joining the TMC in 2011, a senior CPI(M) leader had claimed that they would eventually return to the parent party at the suitable time. Probably the right time is yet to come. Is not it?

Nothing much could be expected from a party which is still divided on the issue whether the BJP is fascist. People are yet to forget the reservation of Prakash Karat on describing the BJP as fascist. The CPI(M) is keen to ensure the defeat of TMC but at the same time it is surprising that it has not actively involved in the farmers’ struggle. Its trade unions have also been nursing a passive attitude towards farmers’ struggle.

Notwithstanding the BJP committing one gaffe after another, they are making serious efforts to appropriate Bengal’s icons like Rabindranath Thakur, Swami Vivekananda and Netaji Subhas Bose for reaching out to the Bengali voters. Quite interesting they have been paying lio services to the dead icons, they are out to insult and denigrate the living conscience-keepers like Amartya Sen. It simply manifests their seriousness.

In their quest to throw out Mamata, they are ruthlessly misusing the office of Governor. Only yesterday the Governor alleged that Al Queda had entered into the state. What does it imply? How could the left leaders keep their eye shut to these realities? Why they fail to visualise the worry of the people who are feeling scared of impending scenario of BJP wresting the state from the TMC in case the state witnesses multi-pronged electoral fight. Any suggestion to find a middle path is absurd and in fact would simply help the BJP. Those who talk of middle path and suggesting the voters to go for the best possible challenger to the BJP in each constituency really live in fool’s paradise. They must turn the pages of the electoral history in the state. They would come to understand the importance of winning the election. With the massive campaign already launched by the BJP they must not nurse any illusion.

How could left ignore the BJP’s strive to expand its social base by inducting Dalit, Muslim and Adivasi groups in districts? The urgency to win the election has forced the BJP to make a strategic shift. Its state minority morcha president Ali Hossain had said that a massive drive was being launched to induct 5,000 Muslims as members. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the ruling TMC had a lead in 93 out of the 125 minority-dominated Assembly segments while the BJP was ahead in 23 and the Congress in nine seats.

In their personalised feud with the TMC, the left and Congress leaders have also preferred to forget that MIM is out to further communalise the Muslim voters. It is a paradox that the BJP has been accusing Mamata of pursuing the politics of appeasement towards the Muslims, the chief of AIMIM Asaduddin Owaisi and Abbas Siddiqui, the young scion of the Pir clan that presides over the influential Furfura Sharif accuse her of using Muslims as mere vote-bank. This has undoubtedly come as elation for the BJP. It cannot be denied that Muslim politics in Bengal has taken a divisive turn in West Bengal before the assembly polls.

Owasi has every right to fulfil his ambition to emerge as the Muslim face at the national level and to achieve this objective he is free to field his candidates in Bengal. But people of the country saw that how his machination helped the B JP to defeat the Mahagathbandhan in Bihar. MIM helped the BJP won. Owaisi along with Siddiqui would prove to be decisive factors in at least 46 seats. But one thing is certain; they would end up ensuring the victory of BJP. The saffron party may oblige Owaisi by not implementing the CAA and other citizenship laws, but one thing is certain that Muslims stand to lose their status and must not aspire to influence the decision making process in the state.

Owaisi recently visited Bengal and made it known that Siddiqui would be public face of the Muslim intervention. His overture to work under the leadership of Siddiqui has wider implications. It is part of the well planned design to ensure the defeat of the secular forces. The most interesting aspect of this combination has been the plan to combine the Bengali Muslims led by Siddiqui with the non-Bengali Muslims who are the support base of MIM. It was generally perceived that the Bengali Muslims were solidly behind Mamata Banerjee. They constitute at least 27 per cent of the state’s population. Even a small shift in their stand would ultimately help the rightist communal forces. Siddiqui has already made it clear that he would enter the electoral fray and field candidates in a sizable number of seats.

One thing is absolutely clear that Owaisi’s action will help the BJP more than it would serve the interest of the Muslims of Bengal. It is worth mentioning that in 2019 Loik Sabha elections, while TMC has got 43 per cent of vote, the BJP has gained 40 per cent. The BJP had got 17 per cent vote in Bengal in 2014 during the Modi wave but it dipped to 10 per cent in the 2016 assembly election. The Congress has the vote share of 5.6 per cent in 2019, a fall from 12.4 per cent in 2016. The LF is the biggest loser at mere 7.5 per cent in 2019, a pale show in comparison to its 26.6 per cent in 2016 .

It does not take too much of arithmetical knowledge to find out the CPI(M)-Congress alliance will simply ensure the defeat of Mamata. The hurt pride of the CPI(M) leaders would be assuaged.

Some political experts even argue that the presence of the alliance in the electoral arena will check shifting of the anti-Mamata votes to the BJP. They argue that there are large number of Congress as well as CPI(M) voters who will prefer to vote the BJP in case their own parties do not field their own candidates. Certainly this is weird argument. Does not it imply that the CPI(M) has lost its control on the rank and file? It is also said that they would emerge as the rallying point for the Bengali Muslim voters those have turned anti-Mamata.

But the ground realities do not lend much credence to this argument. Not only the Muslims but even the traditional secular Bengali voters are confused at the stance of the Left-Congress combine. They strongly hold the view that BJP coming to power would not change the political scenario but it would endanger the Bengali culture. With their virtually no knowledge of the Bengali culture they will ruin the Bengali society.

In recent months senior national leaders of BJP have committee a number of serious gaffes. Instead of repenting they have been assiduously sticking to their points and justifying their stands. What is worse the Bengali leaders instead of objecting have been supporting their leaders. Barely a week back the party national chief J.P. Nadda described a Radha-Govind temple in Katwa as the deekshasthal (site of initiation) of Chaitanya. This is historically wrong. But state BJP president Dilip Ghosh justified him. After a statue in Bankura was erroneously identified during Amit Shah’s visit in November as that of tribal demigod Birsa Munda, Ghosh had claimed that after the Union minister said so everyone had to accept it as fact.

A major move has been initiated by the MIM of Owaisi to divide and communalise the Bengali Muslims. The Bengali Muslims are unwilling to subscribe his line. But the threat remains. A week back the Murshidabad unit of the All India Imam-Muezzin and Social Welfare Organisation held a general meeting and emphasised the need to elect a “secular and competent” party in Bengal in order to do away with “divisive forces in the country”.

The meeting that was touted to guide the community in favour the Trinamul Congress was attended by 650 representatives. Although the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen led by Asaduddin Owaisi or Furfura Sharif cleric Abbasuddin Siddiqui were not named, the exercise was largely to mitigate their influence as they attempt putting together a minority alliance for Bengal, which is likely to help the BJP by cutting into Muslim electoral support for the Trinamul Congress.

“As Muslims, we do not have any opportunity to be divided amongst ourselves. This year is too significant for that. Or else, we, too, will be beaten like our brothers in Uttar and Madhya Pradesh and our mosques, too, will be stormed,” said Imran. “Communal forces need to be struck down strongly, and that will only happen if we unite behind the secular force,” added Maulana Qazmi, the imam of Calcutta’s Nakhoda Masjid.

In 2006, minority MLAs numbered 43 in the Assembly, whereas the number rose to 57 in Trinamul’s first term, long before they were attacked by opponents for allegedly playing to the minority “vote bank”. The number of minority MLAs rose to 59 in Trinamul’s current term at government, of which 32 were from their own party. According to the 2011 census, Muslims constitute about a third of the state’s electorate. In districts such as Murshidabad, Malda and North Dinajpur, the minority community holds the decisive sway over electoral outcomes.

It is really painful to imagine when the CPIM) leadership would come to realise its mistakes. They ought to make out the reason for Amit Shah consistently camping in the state. Obviously for him the stakes are high and he does not want to take any chance. Amit Shah is managing the BJP’s election there even as there is a general secretary in-charge. He is leading the BJP’s charge in the state. Even Congress chief ministers and central ministers have campaigned in state elections but never have they held the formal responsibility of managing elections.

BJP national president J.P Nadda on Saturday collected “ek mutho chaal” (a fistful of rice) from farmers to launch a party programme to woo them with an eye on the Assembly polls amid the ongoing farmer protests in Delhi. Launching the farmers’ outreach programme, Nadda defended the farm laws saying that they were aimed at ensuring “freedom for the farmers” before explaining the “ek mutho chaal” event at a public rally at Katwa in East Burdwan.

“BJP workers will visit farmers’ houses, ask for a fistful of rice and take a pledge to protect their interest…. The programme will continue till January 24. BJP workers will visit 40,000 villages in Bengal. After this, BJP workers will observe “Krishak Bhoj’ (lunch with farmers) till January 31 and tell them what injustice is being done to farmers in Bengal,” said Nadda making it clear that the BJP was trying to win over the 72-lakh-odd farmers in Bengal.He also used the occasion to launch an attack on the Mamata Banerjee government for delaying the rollout of the PM-Kisan scheme in Bengal.

Left-Congress pitch their alliance as alternative to TMC and BJP. The fact nevertheless remains it is a utopian claim. The alliance cannot be an alternative to the TMC. The contours of the alliance — from seat distribution to a common agenda or manifesto — are still to be worked out, but its leaders nurse the hope that voters will view it as a third option to the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the BJP in the state. Do they really take the Bengali voters so naïve? Do they really believe that in a state where polarisation of electoral politics is taking place fast into a direct contest between the TMC and BJP, their alliance will have any space. The emerging political situation in West Bengal will only encourage multi-polarity.

Left-Congress are free to pursue their lines, but rejection of communalism will prove to be disastrous for them too. A fortnight back Amartya Sen had said that the Left and other secular parties in West Bengal have no less commitment than the ruling TMC to ensuring that communalism does not rear its ugly head in the state. But it appears that this has not been taken in right spirit by the Left leaders. Senhad also said "Secular parties can differ in their detailed programmes, but the importance of rejecting communalism must surely be a strong shared value. The Left parties should have no less a commitment to that than the TMC (in keeping the state secular)".

"Each party may have a good reason to pursue its own goals without harming the overarching objective of keeping Bengal secular and non-communal. First things should surely come first. Otherwise, we shall not be worthy heirs of Tagore and Netaji," he said.

"Rabindranath Tagore, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Swami Vivekananda, all wanted and argued for a united Bengali culture, and there is no room in their social objective for trying to excite one community against another.That is the Bengali culture that we have come to admire and support. Kazi Nazrul Islam is as big a Bengali leader as the others. Bengal has greatly suffered from communalism in the past and has learned to reject it firmly," the Nobel laureate said.

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