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Sunday 17 November 2019
Views Articles Malda Another Bangladesh

Malda Another Bangladesh

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[dropcap]H[/dropcap]ere is a State that runs only on political command. It is a dictatorship of the elected. Rules are interpreted as per the whims and fancies of the elected. Even the courts are helpless, more so the lower judiciary, the first guardian of implementation of law.  West Bengal today is a perfect example of what can go wrong in an elected democracy if the electorate surrenders their constitutional rights to raw muscle power.

Republic Day in India is celebrated in the national capital Delhi as well as in all State capitals. This needs careful preparations for over a month — with police, paramilitary and armed forces participating to showcase their best before the country. On Kolkata’s Red Road, the rehearsal was going on with police barricades to keep the stretch vehicle free. A speeding brand new Audi broke through the barricade and killed a young Air Force officer, 21-year old Abhimanyu Gaud. The car, evidence suggested, was allegedly being driven by the son of former RJD MLA and current TMC leader Mohammed Sohrab.

What is disgusting is the audacity of the driver. The car was initially stopped while it was trying to get onto the flyover leading to the Vidyasagar Setu. But the driver took a U-turn on the flyover and drove down using the wrong lane. It then sped towards Red Road where vehicular entry was prohibited because of the rehearsal. Despite such an audacious crime, the driver was let loose, allowing him and his father to flee. After public outcry finally the guilty was nabbed on 17 January, four days after the incident. Even in the police action it is said that the FIR is a much diluted one and does not mention that Sambia Sohrab was in the driver’s seat. Effort to save the guilty is evident.

This is not the first time the TMC Government has attempted to save criminals having links with the party or its leaders. A case in point is the infamous gang rape case of February 2012 in Kolkata’s Park Street. There were five accused; two of them are still absconding. They are Kader Khan and Mohammad Ali. Three of their accomplices have been jailed for 10 years. It is rumoured that the two absconding criminals have links with a top politician of the ruling party and that they are now living in Bangladesh. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had tried to hush up the case, calling it a fabricated one and also later transferring investigator Damayanti Sen to an innocuous post. Later on, due to public pressure, Sen was brought back to complete the investigation.

The desperation of the ruling TMC in protecting certain criminals is most blatant in case of the rioting by a section of people in the north Bengal district of Malda. In display of a curious brand of mob violence, a violent protest on 3 January turned destructive – they attacked the BSF, burnt a police station, a BDO office and North Bengal State Transport buses. They were protesting some remark by a Hindu Mahasabha activist in Uttar Pradesh, which he had made about a month ago. The perpetrator was arrested in Lucknow then. But the crowd thought that there should be retaliatory attack on the Indian state. Once the news broke out, the Banerjee Government sealed the place, allowing nobody, from CPM or BJP, to go there and investigate the matter and blocking all news on the incident. While the media in West Bengal complied, the story was picked up and duly reported by Bangladesh newspapers. The attack on the state thus was effectively condoned.

There is an unfortunate pattern in protecting a section of the population whose members are often enough flouting the codes of civilisation and are engaged in illegal activities. In Malda the perpetrators are engaged in cultivation of poppy, trading in narcotics, dealing in fake currencies and running illegal arms trade rackets. The district shares its borders with Bangladesh and Bihar. It is a Muslim-majority district – 51% of the population is Muslim with Hindus making up around 48% as per Census 2011. Muslim votes are deciders in the district. Both the Lok Sabha seats from the district have elected Muslim MPs – both belong to the family of late Abu Barkat Abdul Ghani Khan Chaudhury of the Congress. Out of 12 Assembly seats, TMC could win only 2 while Congress had 7, and 3 went to the leftist parties. Six of these MLAs are Muslims — none of them belong to TMC. The Congress sent 4 Muslims and the Left 2 to the Assembly. Clearly, Banerjee is desperate to win more seats from Malda. In case Congress and Left parties tie up, Muslim votes, because of their national agenda against the BJP Government, will go in favour of the coalition. The TMC will be the biggest loser since BJP has little or no stake in West Bengal. No wonder, therefore, Banerjee has sacrificed her constitutional responsibility in the altar of political convenience.

From 2012 when BJP was not viewed as a serious contender for the national election till today when BJP is a total outsider in West Bengal, Banerjee has been assiduously cultivating the Muslims in the state.  In the process, the forces which fled Bangladesh have managed to create bases for themselves in West Bengal — a danger to the national security. Knowing the herd mentality of Muslim voters — they are a vote bank following the signals of their community leaders — Mamata is desperately wooing those who wield some influence among the community leaders. Money buys influence. In a business-starved State like West Bengal, money is made in illegal activities. Pampered by the Banerjee administration, they find the State a safe haven to indulge in illegal activities and generate wealth. A part of the same is channelled to buy influence of community leaders. Thus, Mamata hopes to win over the minority community votes that are majority in number in many of the constituencies of the State.

At the time of independence, certain leaders of the Congress like Sarat Bose and Kiran Shankar Ray felt that there should be a united Bengal, separate from India. Luckily, Syama Prasad Mukherjee had the sagacity of realising the catastrophe of such a plan and fought for a Hindu-majority West Bengal. When Nehru signed a pact with Pakistan Prime Minister Liaquat Ali in 1950 over honouring minority rights in India and Pakistan, Syama Prasad could see through the predicament that would befall Hindus in Pakistan. Thus, the flow of refugees from East Pakistan to West Bengal continued unchecked, with secular India protecting Muslim rights earnestly. This went on till 1971 when Bangladesh was liberated. The resultant euphoria gave rise to the spirit of Sarat Bose and West Bengal went on accepting Bangladeshis crossing the border in search of better economic conditions in India.

Such unchecked migration changed the socio-economic-political structure of West Bengal in particular and the rest of India in general. West Bengal is now the largest exporter of menial labourers. The State, reeling under huge pressure of a poverty-stricken population, finds itself irrelevant as an investment destination, Banerjee’s “Biswa Bangla” events notwithstanding. Not only economically, even politically the state is irrelevant. Even in the era of coalition governments, West Bengal was never a deciding factor in forming of the national government. The resultant curious brand of local politics now has reached an alarming position where the very existence of Indian nationhood may get challenged in due course. Mamata Banerjee’s appeasement — in Park Street, on Red Road or at Kaliachak of Malda — should be read in this context. The sooner the realisation sinks in, the better it is for the nation. West Bengal needs to be de-politicised, even if that means sacrificing electoral democracy there.

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Sugato Hazra
Public policy analyst based in Delhi

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