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Murshidabad’s Madrassas and Mamata’s Sops for Muslims in Bengal

Muslims in Murshidabad have been hoodwinked by Didi with schemes meant for them gone astray, writes Chandan Nandy.

Updated
Politics
5 min read
Muslims in Bengal continue to languish even as Mamata-led government doles out several schemes for the community. (Photo: The Quint)

The sheer size of the Islamic seminary in Sarulia, a wind-and-dust swept village in Beldanga subdivision of Murshidabad, is breathtaking. Sarulia has no other school –government or private. Nor do several of the thickly populated villages on either side of the narrow National Highway-34 between Beldanga and Berhampore, the administrative headquarter of Murshidabad, one of two Muslim-majority districts (the other being adjoining Malda) in Bengal.

Established in 1959, the Sarulia Madrassa Darul Uloom is not very different from other relatively new seminaries that dot Murshidabad. While most of the madrassas are awash in loud colours – maroon, parrot green and violet being the most preferred – the one in Sarulia stands out for coating itself in white-and-blue – the colours of the Trinamool Congress.



A portion of the property over which once stood the palace of Mir Mohammad Jaffar Ali Khan, Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula’s army commander, who betrayed the former in battle of Plassey, in Lalbag, Murshidabad. (Photo: Chandan Nandy/ <b>The Quint</b>)
A portion of the property over which once stood the palace of Mir Mohammad Jaffar Ali Khan, Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula’s army commander, who betrayed the former in battle of Plassey, in Lalbag, Murshidabad. (Photo: Chandan Nandy/ The Quint)

Four days ago, the Sarulia madrassa management told its students to take a pre-summer break. The reason – the ruling TMC government had issued an unprecedented notification that it would be safe for all students of all seminaries and government-run or government-aided schools across West Bengal to remain at home and avoid the rising temperature.

“It is not easy to determine whether the Mamata Banerjee government is concerned more with the well-being of school-going students or has employed a sleight of hand to give an election sop,” said Karim Sheikh, sitting under a concrete panoply close to the 1757 Battle of Plassey monument, never taking his eyes off a game of cards.



Karim Sheikh watching his friends play a card game, in Plassey, Nadia. (Photo: Chandan Nandy/ <b>The Quint</b>)
Karim Sheikh watching his friends play a card game, in Plassey, Nadia. (Photo: Chandan Nandy/ The Quint)

The mercury is certainly climbing up, but it is a natural phenomenon in Bengal in general and Murshidabad in particular, at this time of the year. And so is the poll temperature in a district that is considered Congress Lok Sabha MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury’s pocket borough.

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Muslims in Bengal Hoodwinked by Didi

Soon after humbling the Left Front in 2011, in her bid to hive off the Muslim electorate to her fold, Mamata announced grand schemes to uplift the wretched condition of Bengal’s Muslims. One was the imam bhaata (stipend for mosque imams) which was pegged at a measly Rs 2,500 per month. Another was to accord formal government recognition to hundreds of un-recognised quomi madrassas in districts such as Murshidabad, Malda, Birbhum and North and South Parganas.



A stretch of the mighty Padma river that divides India and Bangladesh, in Lalgola, Murshidabad. (Photo: Chandan Nandy/ <b>The Quint</b>)
A stretch of the mighty Padma river that divides India and Bangladesh, in Lalgola, Murshidabad. (Photo: Chandan Nandy/ The Quint)

“The transfer of stipends to imams’ bank accounts has been patchy. Over 1,000 un-recognised seminaries across the state are yet to receive government recognition,” said Deepak Ghosh, once a Mamata loyalist and now an unrelenting critic of the Trinamool supremo.

Ghosh, an IAS officer, who retired as secretary to the West Bengal government in 1996, hastened to add that “Didi has hoodwinked the Muslims of Bengal. The promises she made to the community have not been met. Consequently, the Muslims have begun to rethink their voting strategy, especially when the BJP, which till a few years ago was an electoral non-entity in Bengal, now trying to make a dent.”

“The sops are of no use. Murshidabad is in dire need of education of Muslim women,” said SM Reza Ali Khan, a retired school teacher and a direct descendent of the infamous Mir Mohammad Jaffar Ali Khan, Siraj-ud-Daula’s general who betrayed the nawab nazim, resulting in his defeat at the hands of Colonel Robert Clive in Plassey.



Dr SM Reza Ali Khan, a direct descendent of the nawab of Bengal Siraj-ud-Daula’s army commander Mir Mohammad Jaffer Ali Khan, at his residence in Lalbag, Murshidabad. (Photo: Chandan Nandy/ <b>The Quint</b>)
Dr SM Reza Ali Khan, a direct descendent of the nawab of Bengal Siraj-ud-Daula’s army commander Mir Mohammad Jaffer Ali Khan, at his residence in Lalbag, Murshidabad. (Photo: Chandan Nandy/ The Quint)
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Wooing Illegal Immigrants

Bengal’s Muslims were previously the CPI(M)-led Left Front’s “vote bank”. But in the run-up to the 2011 campaign, a bulk of Bengal’s 28 percent Muslim population switched loyalty, with 70 percent of them flocking to the TMC. The rest continued to remain tethered to the CPI(M) and the Congress, which have now tied up to take on the TMC this time.

Besides the official announcement of sops for Muslims, the Mamata regime sent out unwritten instructions to police stations across Bengal’s six districts on the India-Bangladesh to “go easy” on illegal immigrants who cross the barbed wire-fenced, though porous, boundary. TMC workers in the border districts were directed to help and assist the immigrants, largely Muslim, in settling down and procuring citizenship documents.

This is not a new phenomenon. In the past, when the CPI (M) was in power, it did everything to maximise its vote base by assisting Bangladeshi illegal immigrants in pursuit of Indian citizenship. The TMC simply followed suit.



The grand facade of the madrassa in Sarulia in Beldanga, Murshidabad. (Photo: Chandan Nandy/ <b>The Quint</b>)
The grand facade of the madrassa in Sarulia in Beldanga, Murshidabad. (Photo: Chandan Nandy/ The Quint)
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Border Games

But if the TMC wooed the Muslim immigrants, the BJP was not far behind. With little or no presence in Bengal’s border districts, the BJP chose to speak for the Hindu immigrants, making promises to pave the way for their recognition as refugees and/or Indian citizens smooth.

However, in Murshidabad and Malda, the last remaining bastions of the much-depleted Congress [which now finds itself invigorated after its alliance with the CPI(M)] played and continues to play its own border games, with its local district-level workers assisting the hugely successful – and remunerative – cross-border cattle smuggling.



A Border Security Force sketch of the riverine border landscape, at a Khandua checkpost in Murshidabad. (Photo: Chandan Nandy/ <b>The Quint</b>)
A Border Security Force sketch of the riverine border landscape, at a Khandua checkpost in Murshidabad. (Photo: Chandan Nandy/ The Quint)

“As early as last month, we prevented 18 cattle-heads from being slipped across the riverine border here,” Jaspal Singh, a BSF inspector at the force’s Khandua checkpost near Lalgola in Murshidabad said, pointing towards a char (sand bar island formed by the fertile alluvial soil of the Padma river) within Indian territory.

Shrugging his shoulders, Singh acknowledged that the cross-border movement of people (read illegal immigration from Bangladesh) continues, though it has stopped because of heightened security in the borderlands in view of the 21 April polls in Murshidabad and Malda.

Also read:

In Nadia’s Debogram, Ma, Mati, Manush Has a New Message for Mamata

Is Kolkata’s New White-and-Blue Avatar Meant to Mask Its Decline?

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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