West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been ardent in wooing the Muslim community in her near-five years of power in the state, which to the cynical makes perfect electoral sense. While it is de rigueur to ensure the all-round development of Muslims as it is of other communities, in West Bengal, the Muslim community matters hugely electorally too. They comprise around 27% of the population and constitute up to over 50% and more in some districts and seats. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that Ms Banerjee has been making every effort to wear her community preferences on her sleeves by donning the hijab and performing namaaz in community gatherings, even going so far as to announce allowances for imams, while temple priests are not welcome. It is a different matter that these gestures do not add up to real development on the ground. And the problem gets compounded when electoral compulsions make a government soft-peddle, or worse, appear to be in denial of the activities of the few members of the community—any community for that matter—that are not just radical, but are a law-and-order and sometimes a security threat to the entire country. The Mamata Banerjee government has done little in concrete terms to improve the lot of ordinary Muslims even while it seems to being giving a pass to miscreants such as those who recently put Malda to shame with manifestations of hate.
In fact, in Mamata Banerjee’s self-declared secular worldview, kowtowing to radical clerics to stop the screening of a Taslima Nasreen serial is held to be more important in electoral terms to the Muslim community than raising their living standards. The fringe needs to be punished and not coddled when it engages in wanton violence, while cosmetic steps such as wearing the hijab by the Chief Minister of Bengal needs to get replaced with practical measures to improve the lives of ordinary Muslims, as indeed ordinary citizens from other communities as well.
The Mamata Banerjee government has also perfected the art of ignoring the large-scale migration from Bangladesh, a process by which illegal aliens enter this country and adopt dubious means to turn Indian citizens, and, as a corollary, add heft to a vote bank ripe for the picking. In the process, her government appears to be unconcerned that a large number of radicalised Muslims and members of terror groups are finding an easy entry into the country along with those who are fleeing to India because of economic impoverishment. Intelligence reports say that the border districts of West Bengal are now hotbeds of activities such as opium trading, fake Indian currency rackets, smuggling of arms, ammunition, and similar other nefarious dealings. It has been alleged that jihadi elements from across the border are finding shelter and political patronage in West Bengal and are radicalising the population in the border districts. Many of these are followers of fanatics who participated in the 1970s genocide in Bangladesh and are on the payroll of Pakistan’s ISI. The Central Bureau of Investigation is probing how in a scam money was diverted to Bangladeshi jihadis who are trying to destabilise the government there. The agency is also probing the links of some Trinamool Congress leaders with these extreme elements. In fact, just as in the case of Burdwan in 2014, where the blasts took place at a Trinamool leader’s house, questions are being raised about the links of the perpetrators of the Malda riot with the ruling party in West Bengal. The border districts of the state are sitting on a powder keg, which, when it explodes, will cause immense communal damage and will prove to be a security nightmare. The situation is precarious, so to brush off what happened in Malda as a minor skirmish between villagers and the Border Security Force, as the CM has done, is to do great disservice to the country and its people. There’s something amiss in the state of West Bengal, and it’s time Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee thought of national interest.