Baduria Riots: Another Face of Bengal’s Communalised Politics?
Minority appeasement followed by polarsation explains why violence has erupted in West Bengal, writes Chandan Nandy
Even as the war of words between West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Governor Keshri Nath Tripathi turned ugly on Wednesday, clear evidence has emerged that Muslim assertiveness, politically spurred by the Trinamool Congress (TMC), was at the centre of the communal violence across several districts in the state.
Reluctance of State Police
While communal tension has been brewing in some parts of the border state in wake of the BJP’s aggressive posturing since the TMC won a stunning electoral victory last summer, the latest round of violence will not do any good to the otherwise peaceful coexistence between Hindus and Muslims.
This failure, or reluctance, on the part of the state police to act against trouble-mongers among the minority community stems from the “unstated” directive that they receive from time to time from TMC political bosses.
This came into sharp relief in the course of my travels across West Bengal during last year’s assembly election campaign when people across the socio-political spectrum, including Left-leaning intellectuals, complained that the TMC was “out-Heroding Herod” in “appeasing” the Muslims.
Appeasement of Minorities
The charge of appeasement of Bengal’s minorities is not without basis. The CPI(M) and its other Leftist allies did so in their heyday. In fact, Mamata’s political-electoral success could largely be attributed to the solid support her party has received in two assembly elections from the Muslims, in Kolkata as well as the districts.
As the CPI(M)’s grip over the state loosened at the turn of the 21st century, Muslims, barring those of Murshidabad and Malda where they continued to vote for the Congress, began to flock towards the TMC. This was no mean achievement, but one that was fuelled by the generous sprinkling of patronage politics and symbolism, outbidding even the Marxists in wooing and subsequently securing the Muslims’ near-total backing.
Placating Bengal’s Muslims, who certainly deserve to be pulled out of their appalling social and economic backwardness, had a predictable “counter-polarisation” effect among caste Hindus, especially in Kolkata, who found Mamata’s minority politics reprehensible.
This anxiety was reflected in the last assembly election when the BJP, drawing on this angst, won only three seats, but managed to garner 10.16 percent of the votes as compared to a mere 4.06 percent in the 2011 polls when it failed to even open its account.
Since the last assembly polls, the BJP, sensing an opportunity, has embarked on a mission to improve its position. The RSS as well as little known organisations affiliated to it took out processions on the occasion of Ramnavami, with participants wielding swords, knives and tridents.
In Kolkata, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Hindu Jagaran Manch-sponsored tableaus were taken out on 22 locations. These parades are unprecedented in West Bengal where Ramnavami has historically had no special recognition among generations of Bengali Hindus.
On the other hand, Muharram processions and tableaus, complete with large tazias and sword-carrying men, have been annual events that Calcuttans have been used to.
History of Religious Violence
In recent times, the closest that Kolkata came to in terms of witnessing Muslim-led rioting and violence was in November 2007 when fanatics, under the aegis of the All-India Minority Forum, resorted to arson, demanding the expulsion of Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen for “hurting the sentiments of Muslims” and “ridiculing Islam”.
The CPI(M)-led Left Front government called in 10 platoons of the army to quell the violence. Last year, Muslims went on the rampage after a derogatory comment against Prophet Mohammad was made by an Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha functionary.
Calcutta had its own share of Hindu-Muslim riots before the city was rechristened Kolkata. Regardless of the Left Front regime’s so-called egalitarianism and secularism, parts of Kolkata were convulsed in rioting, followed by police firing, which claimed the lives of at least nine persons in the aftermath of the demolition of the Babri mosque on 6 December 1992.
Sikhs were targeted by mobs after Indira Gandhi’s assassination on 31 October 1984. In the Great Calcutta killings of 16 August 1946, otherwise called ‘Direct Action Day’, when Hindus and Muslims took part in an orgy of killing that lasted a week, an estimated 4,000 people died.
Post-Partition Bengal and Hindu-Muslim relations gained a notoriety as far communal violence is concerned.
The various waves of Hindu immigrants from East Pakistan brought their own brand of Muslim hatred that remained largely suppressed, although Calcuttans at large have always harboured and nursed deep animosities against members of the minority community, whether of East Pakistani, Bangladeshi or Bihari origins.
TMC Followed CPI(M)’s Brand of Politics
The Left Front was able to keep the communal genie bottled up till it began to lose political currency in the wake of the TMC’s rise.
For sure, the CPI(M) politically ‘empowered’ Muslims across the state, but did little to lift them out of poverty. It did nothing to improve Muslims’ access to modern, secular education or jobs, which had the negative impact of pushing them to the retrograde madrassa way of life.
The TMC has followed pretty much the same brand of politics involving the minorities, taking steps to “welcome” illegal immigrants from Bangladesh among other decisions which have not been taken kindly by a significant section of the Hindus.
To top it all, the Narendra Modi government’s decision to grant citizenship status to Bangladeshi Hindu immigrants, settled in Kolkata and other towns of West Bengal, has certainly raised Mamata’s hackles, forcing her to embrace Muslims ever more tightly.
Political Implications of Baduria
The violence in Baduria in North 24 Parganas and its seeping influence in other districts has political implications for Bengal. The level of Muslim participation in the violence will cause greater counter-polarisation among the Hindus, a scenario which does not bode well for Bengal’s social fabric which is already under strain.
The TMC, which was re-elected on the promise of delivering on development, will have none to blame if it fails to eschew the costly politics of minority appeasement and does nothing to pull Bengal out of the economic morass. The BJP is waiting by the wings.
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