Saturday 22 July 2017 News Updated at 12:07 AM IST
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BJP dreams of making inroads into Bengali society - Deccan Herald
BJP dreams of making inroads into Bengali society
Rajat Roy,
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Badauria violence. ANI image.
The year so far has not augured well for West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her government. First, giving a lie to her claim that the "hills are smiling”, Darjeeling is now aflame with renewed demand for Gorkhaland. Then, the communal riots in south Bengal raised serious doubts about the state being an epitome of communal harmony. On both these issues, the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) seemed to be on the defensive, making the BJP in the plain and the Gorkha separatists in the hills more aggressive.

While the movement in Darjeeling demands a separate study, the issue of communal disharmony demands more immediate attention. The recent communal riots in Basirhat sub-division of North 24 Parganas district forces us to introspect: are some external elements responsible for this communal strife? Have not the people of different faiths, especially Hindus and Muslims, lived in harmony there?

Mamata blamed the BJP-RSS, its leaders and cadres for fomenting hatred and put the blame on some elements from across the Bangladesh border who allegedly entered into Basirhat and caused violence. Since these two claims are contradictory, we need to probe deeper.

After Partition in 1947, West Bengal did receive more than 10 million Hindu refugees who crossed over from erstwhile East Pakistan. While the middle class had resettled themselves in Kolkata and other urban areas, the poorer class, mostly the peasantry and the artisans, settled in rural areas, many in the districts bordering Bangladesh. Basirhat is one such area. The loss of livelihood, coupled with lack of proper rehabilitation programme taken up by the government, made them angry and frustrated. And for years, the refugees gave vent to their anger by supporting the Left in successive elections.

With the passage of time, the refugee movement lost its steam and got disenchanted with the Left. The sense of loss for their lost homes and livelihood remained imprinted in their collective memory. While they were angry with the government for not doing enough to help them regain their livelihood, they held the Muslims as the root cause for their tragedy.

Thus these economically weaker sections of the society in rural Bengal became easy prey to anti-Muslim propaganda, occasionally perpetrating in communal violence and also lending their electoral support to the BJP, as evidenced in the 1990s.

It is significant that the vote share of the BJP started increasing in the bordering districts. Dum Dum and Krishnanagar, two Lok Sabha constituencies where the refugee voters are a dominant force, saw the BJP winning in the 1990s. But it must be mentioned here that the acceptance of Hindu Right politics is not restricted to the refugees alone. With the decline of secular and liberal forces (Congress and Left) in the state, more and more people from the mainstream society started embracing the BJP's politics.

The Muslims are another component in this narrative. In Bengal, the Muslims comprise 27% of the population. With their concentration in the border districts of Bangladesh, they are now in a position to influence the outcome of elections in a number of districts, including Uttar Dinajpur, Malda, Murshidabad, Nadia, North and South 24 Parganas and partly in Howrah and Hoogly.

Cosmetic measures

Though the Left, Congress and now ruling TMC constantly woo them uninhibitedly for their support, their lot remain unchanged even after much debate on the findings of the Sachar Commission report. Both the Left, when they were in power, and later Mamata's TMC after coming to power, did take some cosmetic measures to pacify the Muslims, but nothing substantial was done for them. For example, ignoring the high court stricture, Mamata Banerjee's government started giving monthly allowances to around 12,000 imams and muezzins in the state.

Also, by refusing to endorse the demand for the abolition of triple 'talaq', Mamata and her party made it clear that they intend to pander to the whims of the conservative sections of the Muslim society. She made Siddiqullah Chowdhury a minister in her Cabinet and Idrish Ali an MP from Basirhat. Both are known for their extreme fundamentalist thinking and were blamed for the riots in 2008 when demand for the expulsion of Taslima Nasreen, a liberal writer from Bangladesh, turned into a violent riot in Kolkata.

While the extremists in both the Hindu and Muslim communities play their role, the ground reality favours them. Despite tall claims made by liberal Hindu middle class of secularism as a credo, educated Muslims still face difficulty in getting a house on rent in Bengali middle-class localities in Kolkata. The experience of noted author Syed Mustafa Siraj is a case in point. The segregation imposed on them forces them to live a ghettoised life.

So, when riots break out with or without provocations coming from rumour mills (now social media), the segregation that is already existing helps to create a further barrier between the two communities. The state has a chequered history of communal violence. After 1947, years 1950, 1964 and 1992-93 saw major riots in the state. In between, there were several riots, like in Kaliachak, Malda district, in January 2016, Barrackpore, North 24 Parganas district, in October 2016 and Dhulagarh, Howrah district, in December 2016. Basirhat is the latest in the line. The BJP is trying to enter the state's political scene in a big way by taking advantage of that existing breach in the society. Their morale is further boosted as the Left and the Congress are visibly in decline. As the political parties continue to fish in troubled waters for their self-serving interests, the festering wounds of communal hatred would surface in Bengal society again and again.

(The writer is a senior journalist and political commentator based in Kolkata)