Ishrat Jahan Joining BJP Shows Bengal’s ‘Competing Communalism’

Ishrat Jahan joining the Bengal BJP has allegedly helped the party weaken Mamata Banerjee’s Muslim vote bank.

4 min read
Hindi Female

The year 2018 began on a good note for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). On 1 January, Ishrat Jahan, one of the five petitioners in the triple talaq case, joined the saffron party in West Bengal. The following day, her lawyer, Nazia Ilahi Khan, also joined the BJP.

Now emboldened, the BJP is using this development as a political weapon, with an alleged aim of driving a wedge between the men and women of the minority community in Bengal.

In West Bengal, where approximately 28 percent of the population is Muslim, it is imperative to ensure that at least a slice of that vote bank gets to make an impact in electoral politics.
Ishrat Jahan joining the Bengal BJP has allegedly helped the party weaken Mamata Banerjee’s Muslim vote bank.
Mamata Banerjee’s government, in its aim to pander to the Muslim vote-bank, has lost many Hindu middle-class voters.
(Photo: Reuters)

With the usual media blitzkrieg, the BJP is now trying to create an impression that they have taken on the task of reforming Muslim society, especially by liberating Muslim women from the yoke of triple talaq.

Nobody, not even the Opposition, is questioning that – drowning out the fact that it was the Supreme Court that delivered the revolutionary verdict, that the petitioners in the case before the apex court were five Muslim women, and not the BJP, that acted as the catalyst for this epoch-making development.

But by taking an ambivalent position, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her party have only helped the BJP create this confusion over the issue. While the Muslim women’s demand for abolishing triple talaq was gaining ground, Mamata and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) did not come out in support of the Muslim women’s movement.

On the contrary, in fact, Mamata and her party spokesmen went on record saying that any attempt to bring in reform within the Muslim society should come from within their society – and that it should not be imposed upon them.


Mamata’s Minority Appeasement Tactics

Ishrat Jahan joining the Bengal BJP has allegedly helped the party weaken Mamata Banerjee’s Muslim vote bank.

After the proposed bill banning triple talaq hit the Opposition hurdle in the Rajya Sabha, Mamata reiterated her position, forgetting the fact that Bengal has historically witnessed landmark social reforms; for instance, Raja Rammohan Roy's petition to end 'Sati' and Vidyasagar’s fight for the rights of Hindu widows.

By not supporting the demand of Muslim women to put an end to triple talaq (even after their historic win in the Supreme Court), Mamata made her intentions clear.

She would not do anything that would potentially make Bengal’s Muslims hostile to her party, especially seeing that she has been dependent on Muslims like Idris Ali and Siddiqullah Chowdhury (both were involved in communal riots demanding Taslima Nasreen's expulsion from Bengal).

Ali is now a Trinamool Congress MP from Basirhat and Chowdhury, a minister in Mamata's Cabinet.


Hindu Middle-Class Shift Loyalties

Also, there are a number of imams (12,000 in all) who have regularly been paid monthly allowances from the state exchequer, (bypassing the Calcutta High Court ruling) whom Mamata is banking on for enlisting the support of Muslims during elections. These religious leaders are mostly conservative and vehemently opposed to the idea of banning triple talaq or any such move that would liberate Muslim women.

Mamata’s pandering to these Muslim clerics has given the BJP a solid stick to beat with. The policy of appeasement of Muslims by the state government has made a section of the Hindu middle-class hostile to it, making them shift loyalties to the BJP.

The new strength of the BJP in the state was demonstrated through the statewide celebration of ‘Ram Navami’ in 2016, to which Mamata had given a knee-jerk reaction. Soon after, her party leaders started organising ‘Hanuman Jayanti’ in districts like Birbhum and Burdwan.

Lest her Hindu voters desert her, Mamata started taking a ‘soft Hindutva’ line – in public meetings she started chanting 'shlokas' from various scriptures, asserting that her party was the ‘real’ Hindu one.

Mamata and her party’s contradictory position has only encouraged the BJP to remain on the offensive.

A ‘Win-Win’ Situation for BJP

Jayprakash Majumdar, one of the BJP’s state leaders, told The Quint over the phone:

By driving a wedge between the Muslim women and men we hope to make a few cracks in Mamata’s Muslim vote bank. Also, bringing in Ishrat Jahan and her lawyer into the BJP fold is another way of empowering them. The progressive section of the secular, liberal and educated Muslim society would have nothing to say against the move of empowering Muslim women. Ours is a win-win situation.

In this bipolar political situation, the voices of the secular and liberal forces are becoming increasingly feeble. CPI(M) state secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra acknowledged the gravity of the situation and warned, speaking at party mouthpiece Ganashakti Patrika’s 51st anniversary celebration, “Both the BJP and the TMC are now engaged in competing communalism. Basically, it is a two-headed monster. To fight this monster, we need to mobilise all available secular, democratic and progressive forces and face that menace together.'”

(The writer is a former Associate Editor (News), Ananda Bazar Patrika. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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