Kolkata: With Muslims
comprising nearly 30 percent of the state's 92 million population,
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee continues to dole out
largesse to Muslims. However, many, especially the opposition
Left, alleges that the sops are intended to woo the community
ahead of next year's panchayat polls.
Even though her last month's announcement that the state
government would provide a monthly honorarium to imams drew flak
from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Banerjee went on to declare
an honorarium for muezzins of mosques to be paid through the Waqf
Board this week.
Continuing to shower sops on the minority community, the chief
minister also said the cabinet had ratified a proposal for
reservation of jobs for Muslims under the other backward classes (OBC)
The Left, which maintained a clean sweep in the panchayat
elections for decades till 2008 - when they won but saw an erosion
in their rural base - dubs this policy of the Trinamool-led
government as "election sops" to woo Muslims.
"Every day she (Banerjee) is making this sort of announcement,
simply eyeing the next year's polls," Communist Party of
India-Marxist (CPI-M) central committee member Mohammad Salim told
Though Banerjee defended her decision, terming as "very poor" the
muezzins who lead the call to prayer and help out in other
socio-economic activities like administering polio drops, some
political observers feel the Trinamool, facing several problems on
different fronts, is trying its best to woo Muslims for the
Elections to the three-tier local government bodies promise a
tough political fight for the Trinamool Congress leader, who
became the state's first woman chief minister, dethroning the Left
Front after 34 years of uninterrupted rule in May last year.
Ally Congress has dropped enough hints that it would love to go it
alone in the polls. The party had fought last year's West Bengal
assembly elections, joining hands with the Trinamool and the
latter, which is also a constituent of the central government,
heavily benefited from it.
Recently, however, there has been a widening rift between the two
parties on several issues, from the Teesta water sharing dispute
to foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail.
Meanwhile, the Marxists, who had managed to retain dominance in 13
districts, will surely leave no stone unturned to reclaim lost
In this scenario, some quarters believe Banerjee was desperate to
retain the minority vote bank, which had been with her in the
There have been signs of her popularity going down due to
controversies like Kolkata's Park Street rape case, the arrest of
an academic over a cartoon and the banning of some newspapers in
There are, of course, those who did not agree with the assessment
on Banerjee trying to appease Muslims.
"I am happy with the chief minister's decision (to give a monthly
honorarium to imams and muezzins) as, according to the Sachar
Committee, the condition of Muslims in Bengal is not good," Aziz
Mubaraki, national secretary of the South Asia Ulema Council, told
On whether the honorarium was an attempt to woo Muslims, Mubaraki
said: "If we always look at it this way, then we cannot do good
Samir Kumar Das, a political analyst, also does not believe
Banerjee is trying to woo minority voters.
"I do not think so. And, moreover, the concept of a 'Muslim
votebank' is a myth. Nowadays Muslims do not cast votes as a
community, every Muslim casts his or her vote as a separate
voter," Das, a professor of political science at Calcutta
University, told IANS.
(Mithun Dasgupta can be contacted at email@example.com)