Politics Of Appeasement Boomerangs In Bengal

Politics Of Appeasement Boomerangs In Bengal West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. (Samir Jana/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • Chief Minister Banerjee announces a grant of Rs 10,000 for community Durga pujas in Bengal. Muslim clerics and their followers take out angry rally opposing it.

    In any case, a grant of Rs 10,000 doesn’t make any difference to the community Durga pujas.

The chickens have come home to roost in Bengal, and this is causing deep distress to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. The dangers of mindlessly appeasing religious communities through doles and sops came to the fore with Muslim religious leaders coming out on the streets of Kolkata on Wednesday and accusing Banerjee of ‘majority appeasement’.

Long accused of ‘minority appeasement’, Banerjee, in an apparent move to balance the scales, started offering doles to Hindus as well. In mid-September this year, she announced cash grants of Rs 10,000 to each of the 28,000 community Durga pujas in the state. But this blatant move to ‘appease’ Hindus evoked a lot of criticism with many rightly asking why taxpayers’ money should be given to organising a religious festival. Most of the community Durga pujas have huge budgets amounting to a few lakh rupees at least and a small grant of Rs 10,000 will not make any difference.

On Wednesday, thousands of agitated Muslim clerics and scholars who converged in central Kolkata under the banner of the Bengal Minority Youth Federation latched on to this grant to Durga puja committees to accuse Banerjee of ‘majority appeasement’. Raising slogans against Banerjee – and this is the first time that they have done so –they asked why the stipends to imams and muezzins had not been raised despite repeated demands. Banerjee had announced this stipend – Rs 2,500 to imams and Rs 1,500 to muezzins when she came to power in 2011, but the Calcutta High Court had ruled it as unconstitutional on a petition by Bharatiya Janata Party. But the state government got found a way out by giving those stipends from Waqf funds.

The clerics and scholars, as well as many young men from the community, accused Banerjee of not fulfilling her promises made for the upliftment of the community. They demanded that a Muslim officer be appointed as the police commissioner of Kolkata and Muslims be appointed to senior positions in the districts as well. “Muslims have very little representation in the police force in Bengal and despite there being many Muslim officers, none of them have ever been appointed as the police commissioner of Kolkata. We want this injustice to be corrected and a Muslim as the Kolkata Police commissioner would send a strong signal of assurance to the community,” said the Bengal Minority Youth Federation general secretary Muhammad Kamaruzzaman.

Wednesday’s rally, which was taken out despite police denying permission to the organisers, was an angry one. The protesters demanded state government funding for at least 10,000 madrassas (only 200 are given funds now), and restoration of Waqf properties that are occupied by government departments or have been encroached upon. They warned the Trinamool leadership of “repercussions” if Muslims are neglected in Bengal.

“This was bound to happen. Giving doles and sops does not amount to looking after the welfare of a community. Stipends to imams and muezzins does in no way benefit the Muslim community. Similarly, grants to Durga pujas is also unnecessary and a waste of public money. Why should the government provide funds to Durga pujas who don’t need that money at all? Short-sighted policies and politics of appeasement have led to this grave situation,” said Congress leader Ashim Choudhury. BJP leaders echoed similar sentiments.

Of late, resentment over alleged non-fulfilment of promises made to the community by Banerjee has been brewing amongst the Muslims. Two weeks ago, a meeting of over 350 Muslim intellectuals, religious leaders and prominent persons from the community had accused the present state government of neglecting the community and listed out many demands, including proportional representation (read this) for Muslims.

Banerjee, say her close aides, is in a bind now. If she gives in to the demands of the Muslims, she will be accused of appeasing them once again. With the BJP fast gaining ground in the state, she does not want to be lose the support of the majority community by being seen to be giving doles and sops to minorities. But she cannot afford to lose the support of the minority community as well. “This is what happens when a politician is short-sighted and thinks meaningless doles and sops will get her the support of a community. It boomerangs eventually and that is happening now,” said a prominent lawyer, who was once a close associate of Banerjee.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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