2014-05-07 18:12:39 UTC
For the first time in decades, West Bengal is witnessing a significant
degree of communal polarisation playing out across many phases in the
state. The BJP's PM candidate Narendra Modi's rhetoric, defining
"infiltrators" along religious lines, has heightened the polarisation.
"Those who observe Durgashtami and speak Bengali, they are all our
Mother India's children. They will get the same respect just as any
Indian," Modi said at a rally in Asansol on May 4.
By airing the RSS view on "Bangladeshi infiltration", the BJP hopes to
consolidate Hindu votes in the bordering districts of Bengal that have
a large Muslim population. BJP leaders from Bengal have endorsed his
comments and said Muslims from Bangladesh who come to India have dual
citizenship should be pushed back. But the BJP's claims on Muslim
"infiltration" in Bengal do not have any substantial statistical
Former PM and BJP stalwart A B Vajpayee never used such polarising
words during the 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2004 Lok Sabha elections. After
forming the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in January 1998, Mamata Banerjee
had joined the NDA government, led by Vajpayee. But this time, the TMC
is on its own and the contest in Bengal is fourcornered with the TMC,
Left, Congress and BJP competing.
While Modi plays the Hindu card, Mamata is eyeing the minority vote
bank by asking theElection Commission to punish him for his
"infiltrator" comments. The politics of tokenism practised by the TMC
in the last three years has provided ground for the BJP's growth.
There is resentment against socalled sops given to Muslims among a
large number of Hindus. No one could miss photographs of Mamata
wearing her saree draped like a hijab in TMC banners in Kolkata.
Soon after coming to power in 2011, Mamata announced a monthly stipend
for Muslim clerics in the state, hoping it would help her control
Muslim vote banks in urban and rural areas. But this created a
backlash among Hindu and Christian priests in the state. Later, the
high court struck down the stipend, but the resentment against the
Last week, Muslim clerics from Furfura Sharif, a much-revered shrine
for Bengali Muslims in Hooghly, were attacked in South 24 Parganas by
Trinamool goons for criticising the Mamata government for its failure
to keep its promises. Ibrahim Siddiqui and Kasem Siddiqui, descendants
of the founders of the Furfura Sharif, slammed Mamata for her false
promises, saying this was driving a wedge among Muslims as well as
between Muslims and Hindus.
During the near-35-year long Left Front rule, Muslims were largely
with the CPM that ensured their safety. Before the Left came to power
in 1977, Muslims were with the Congress. Mamata had taken on the Left
Front citing the Sachar Committee report that showed how Muslims in
Bengal remained backward in socioeconomic terms, with huge gaps in
Muslim representation in government jobs, enrolment of Muslim teachers
and students in education, and so on.
Muslim support for the Left started eroding from the 2008 panchayat
polls and the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. By 2011, the Trinamool had
established a considerable sway among the Muslims in south Bengal.
Statistics reveal Bengal's Muslim population is deprived of
development. In fact, only seven of the 42 members of Parliament (16.7
per cent) were Muslim post the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. Only 20 per cent,
or 59, Muslim MLAs were elected to the 294-member Bengal assembly in
2011. There is no Muslim district unit secretary of the CPM, while TMC
has two and Congress four.
Muslims constitute more than 25 per cent of the state's population. In
at least 20 of the 42 seats in Bengal, Muslims are likely to play a
key role in the results.
Modi's "promise" about deporting Bangladeshi immigrants from Bengal if
the BJP comes to power is likely to cause further consolidation of
Muslims behind the TMC. But communal polarisation during elections can
have long-term effects.
So far, the BJP had a marginal presence in Bengal, but many observers
predict its vote share could grow into double digits this time, and
Modi wants to seize this chance. Yet, it is unclear, in this
four-cornered contest, whether more votes will translate into seats
for the BJP or provide a leg-up for the Left parties.