VOTE BANK CONSIDERATIONS
Dadri is some 50 kilometers from Delhi. Malda over 1,500. But that cannot be the only reason why Malda has not entered national consciousness. Dadri was in headlines for several weeks. The crime was gruesome. An innocent man was killed in a fit of rage that he ate cow meat. This was unpardonable. Culprits would soon be brought to justice.
However, in Malda there was a method in the madness. The state withdrew, leaving the field open for criminals behind opium cultivation, narcotics trade, gun-running, counterfeit-currency distribution, etc. As a result, there was a spree of arson and looting. The local police station was burnt down, Hindu homes torched, shops looted. Nearly one lakh Muslims in the border town of Kaliachak, which is 90% Muslim, had marched in response to a call given by a little known religious group, ostensibly to protest the blasphemous remarks of a Hindu Mahasabha leader a month earlier in faraway Lucknow.
Kamlesh Tiwari, who had since been arrested by the UP police, had, no doubt, made an offensive reference to the Prophet, apparently while reacting to an odious comparison of the RSS with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Irfan Habib, the darling of jholawalla liberals, who struts his act as an authority on ancient and medieval India, had likened the RSS to the barbarians of the ISIS, thus exposing his own highly jaundiced mindset and undermining his scholarship. Predictably, he found a ready backer in the great oracle of Rampur. UP minister Azam Khan certified that the great historian of the Aligarh school of thought was right in comparing RSS to the ISIS, a claim so far heard only on television channels from the nightly Pakistani guests. But, then, some may say there was little to distinguish between Indian and Pakistani Muslims when it comes to nationalist organisations like the RSS. Anyway that is a different story. Let us return to the matter in hand.
A loony seemed to have found a match in other loonies. Normally, the matter should have ended with the protests in UP and the arrest of Tiwari. But the subterranean currents in the pan-India Muslim community now unmistakably point to a concerted effort at consolidation, to try and use its substantial numbers as a cohesive and strong pressure group. The vote-bank identity politics the “secularist” parties brazenly indulge in clearly panders to the narrow-minded and extremist leadership of the Muslims. Witness the way the secularist parties are competing to woo the openly sectarian Maulana Badruddin Ajmal of the All India Democratic United Front ahead of the elections in Assam.
Vote-bank considerations alone would explain why in spite of the advance notice about the protest march weeks before it actually took place, there was no police bandobast. The rioters were given a free hand. The local thana was set on fire. A number of police and private vehicles were burnt. Records in the police station destroyed. But there was hardly any mention of the violent spree in Kaliachak in the national media. As is her wont, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee maintained that the march was peaceful.
Malda district borders Bangladesh. Over 60% of the counterfeit currency is said to be smuggled into India through the Malda border. With criminal gangs acting as conduits for Pakistan’s ISI, even in the normal course there should have been a heavier presence of the police, and intelligence personnel. But the “secularist” parties which have ruled West Bengal since Independence have given a free pass to the anti-national elements in Malda, and their soul mates across the international border. All for the votes of the Muslim community. For decades, the Congress was the beneficiary, after its decline the Trinamool Congress is a clear gainer. Without patronising various criminal gangs in Malda, rival political parties cannot hope to make headway. This further exacerbates the law and order situation.
With the Assembly polls a few months away, electoral considerations were at play when the state government, far from taking a tough line against law-breakers in Kaliachak, allowed them a free hand. Which means that the criminals who burnt down the police station and along with it the records of the ISI-run counterfeit currency operations, would now walk free. Muslims constitute nearly 28% of the electorate in the state. It is, therefore, understandable that Mamata Banerjee would try and keep them in good humour. But must she be soft on criminal elements reportedly behind counterfeit currency and narcotics operations in Malda?
Notably, a few days earlier a Muslim teacher in a madrasa near Kolkata was roughed up and dismissed for trying to teach the national anthem to his wards. This was unacceptable to the maulvis and mullahs who control the madrasa. The ruling party refused to come to the rescue of the aggrieved teacher even after he took his complaint against the madrasa management public.
Quite clearly, the secularist Trinamool Congress sees percentage only in pandering to the extremist elements in the minority community. But this pandering in the border state jeopardizes security. Several decades ago, the Congress leadership had welcomed Bangladeshis with an eye on elections. The under-the-radar flow became a flood years later, with the result a number of districts in Assam are now Muslim-majority. The problem in the border districts of West Bengal is equally acute but the issue has not found national traction.
Dadri was a one-off act of madness, but wholly uninformed by advance planning and organisational support. Kaliachak, on the other hand, was a conspiracy blessed by the ISI and enacted by its agents on the Indian side of the border.
It poses a systemic threat to national unity. Secularist parties in their hunger for votes should not lose sight of the wider national interest. As for those who only the other day went into spasms of ersatz anger, and enacted a serial play of award wapsi, ought to ponder where the growing stranglehold of the mullah-maulvi extremism on our politics is taking India.
Is the NDA government so weak that it cannot ensure that Gopa Sabharwal, the controversial vice-chancellor of the seven-star Nalanda University, goes her separate way now that her term, at long last, is over? It would seem so from all indications. Despite the fact that her appointment as VC had attracted a lot of adverse comment, even causing the former President, the late A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, to dissociate himself from the Rs 2,000-crore university, she continues merrily, expecting confirmation of a second term.
The founding chairman of the Governing Council of Nalanda, the Nobel Laureate, Amartya Sen, had personally taken a lot of flak for picking Sabharwal for the VC’s post. Sen himself felt obliged to resign after he realised that the NDA government was not too keen for him to continue. But his protégé clings to the VC’s chair despite the end of her term several months ago. She insists on a second term even though the world of academia rates her rather poorly, questioning her credentials for such a prestigious and well-paid assignment. Before her appointment as VC, Sabharwal was a Reader in History at a women’s college in Delhi.