‘The governor is a sainik of the Modi Bahini’, said Rahul Sinha, the national general secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party. This is exactly what Mamta Banerji had said two days back when she accused West Bengal governor Keshari Nath Tripathi of behaving like a BJP block president. He had called her in the wake of the sectarian violence in Bashirhat area of the North 24 Parganas district and later issued a statement using extraordinarily harsh language asking the state government to work in an unbiased manner, implying that it was partisan to a particular community, in this case Muslims.
Mamata has to understand that this is not the time for cynical politics. It is only she who has to show that she can in a statesmanlike manner. We say this because it is futile to ask the BJP not to further its political agenda by pushing the state of Bengal into the fire of communalism. The party has made it very clear by its actions in the last four days that it does want to let this opportunity of cornering the Mamta government go out of its hands. Its state president was criminally irresponsible when in the midst of violence he played out unverified video to show that Muslims were attacking Hindus in Basirhat and its national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya claimed that he had news of Hindu women being raped.
The way the BJP members tried to enter the hospital where the dead body of Kartik Chandra Ghosh, 65, Was lying who was fatally attacked by rampaging Muslims can only be called criminal. They declared that the man was their ward president. The sons of the deceased, however, immediately repudiated them, saying that their father did not have any political affiliation. This episode betrays the thuggish manner in which the BJP is functioning. It has announced a four-member high level fact finding team which intends to visit the violence hit area of Basirhat and Bhaduria and stand by the victims.
The BJP does not even want to hide its glee over the god-sent opportunity in the form of the violence in Basirhat and Bhaduria. It only supports its claim that Muslims are violent in nature. It helps them mobilise Hindu fear and hatred and Muslims in Bengal and other parts of India.
The CPI(M) is busy issuing statements. A party which ruled the state for 37 years and literally lorded over it, has neither resources nor inclination to intervene in the situation to bring sanity and peace in the area.
Mamta Banerji did not act like a chief minister. She hesitated, and when things started going out of hand, thundered, threatened both Muslims and Hindus, asking them to behave – but it was too late. Her statement that she could not have ordered firing at the violent mob of Muslims as it could have caused a large number of casualties only shows that she was not interested to use the coercive power of the state to stop the violence. To say that since ‘people’ are involved in violence, they have to be tolerated is dangerous logic. This is an old argument we have heard repeatedly, In Bhagalpur, in Ayodhya, in Delhi, in Gujarat, in Muzaffarnagar and other places and now in the innumerable incidents of lynching where the police stand by as onlookers.
It was shameful for the Muslims of Basirhat to have reacted the way they did after a derogatory Facebook post surfaced and was traced to a young teenager. Instead of reporting the incident to the police, if they felt action was warranted, they went on a rampage, burning houses and shops and later attacking people. Those who rioted and those who did nothing to oppose or criticise the violence have to take the blame for the death of a man in the violence unleashed by them.
The fact that none of country’s important Muslim organisations saw fit to condemn this violence – those who did were smaller organisations – is equally disturbing. It shows two things – either they support the resort to mob violence in the face of an alleged insult to the religion, or are afraid of losing support if they distance themselves from those they claim to be their followers.
What was initially sectarian violence later developed into a communal riot. Later, the burning of the offices of the ruling Trinamul Party shows that it is even more than that.
The Mamata Banerjee government cannot treat the violence as an act of errant children of the state. She knows that the communal temperature in the state is rising. She also knows that there are elements in the Muslim community which are busy promoting a violent ideology. Muslims in Bengal are quite active politically, unlike other states of India. One also has to remember that the history of the state makes it susceptible to communal ideology. There is an undercurrent of communalism in the outwardly liberal and progressive Bengali society which is not talked about. But the way the BJP has surged in the recent times is proof that if the time comes and other factors help, the party will swallow Bengal the way it did in the 1940s.
The CPM-led left front did not think that the violence was much of an issue at all. The party believed it was the natural patron of the Muslims since it never allowed violence against them – which was the lot of the Muslims in other parts of India. Barring this, it did not care about their actual living conditions and human developments, as the Sachar Committee report revealed. The data showed Muslims in West Bengal on the lowest ladder in all fields of life.
Despite their abject poverty, Muslims in the state are politically and socially active. They don’t hesitate to express themselves politically. Their participation in the anti-land acquisition movement in Singur and Nandigram drew the ire of the CPM. The Muslims of Bengal voted to unseat the Left Front government. You could hear Left leaders blaming Muslims for their 2011 electoral debacle, as if they were ungrateful kids who failed to remember the sagacity of the CPM for having kept them alive.
The Trinamul Congress adopted the same attitude towards the Muslims. It has been pampering the most reactionary elements in the community. It also presents itself as the patron and guardian of the Muslims and treats them as juveniles.
It is important for the Muslims in Bengal to understand that they are part of an India where an aggressive Hindu majoritarian politics is in ascendance. Its fountainhead is the RSS and the BJP but other political parties lack the courage to be seen opposing majoritarianism. This politics has fed Hindus the fear of ‘innately violent Muslims’. In the big media, Muslims have been portrayed as an irrational and highly emotional lot who react violently to small things.
Bengal is now sitting on a tinder box. A wrong move by the government and the secular parties can push it towards an irreversible slide. Whatever the politicians who say they are speaking and acting in their interest do, Muslims and Hindus need to show maturity by resisting all attempts to lure them into violence.
[Apoorvanand teaches in Delhi University. The above article is first published by The Wire.]