Malda: Bengal's communal tinderbox may throw up more challenges in run-up to Assembly polls

By N R Mohanty
Even in the heydays of the Left Front, Malda, the border district adjoining Bangladesh, remained the political fiefdom of ABA Ghani Khan Chaudhury, a veteran Congress leader. For 13 years, he was a Congress MLA from Sujapur constituency in Malda – where the epicenter of the current troubles, Kaliachak, is located.

He then went on to become an MP from Malda for 26 years till his death in 2006.
Even after Ghani Khan’s death, Malda remained a Congress bastion, with his son winning the election in 2009 and 2014. But with the dwindling fortunes of the Congress and with Abu Nasar Khan Chaudhury, Ghani Khan’s brother — who became an MLA in 2011 from Sujapur as part of an arrangement between the Congress and the TMC — joining the ruling party in 2014, Mamata reckons that it is her chance to wrest Malda from the Congress fold.

That brings us to the dynamics of the electoral politics in Malda. Vote bank politics is a glaring reality of India. Malda is a classic Muslim-dominant district (over 52 percent). In fact, Muslims constitute almost 90% of the population in the Kaliachak block where violence erupted on January 3 this year.

Malda riots.

Massive damage occurred in Kalichak. PTI

Though Congress and Left Front have used Muslims as vote bank for years, they do not seem to be a match for Mamata Banerjee in the current political scenario. So Mamata is on an all-out drive to consolidate Muslim votes.

That brings the BJP into the contest, because BJP is the only party willing to make a communal polarization against Muslims for the consolidation of Hindu votes. Given the BJP’s monopoly in the matter, it has come to the forefront to take on TMC on the Malda issue. BJP is supposed to be a party practising majority (Hindu) communalism in Indian politics but in Malda, BJP claims to have come to the rescue of ‘minority’ Hindus against the depredations of ‘majority’ Muslims.

BJP, a marginal player in the West Bengal politics so far, hopes the ‘Malda window’ would open up its prospects in the state. Let us understand the economic dynamics of the region along with the social composition. The area is a hub of cross-border criminal activities. Kaliachak is a major centre for trade in illegal weapons. The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) has gone on record, saying that large areas in the district are under lease for poppy cultivation and narcotics money is responsible for a flourishing illegal weapon industry.

Illegal migrants (from Bangladesh) are apparently engaged in a big way in peddling fake Indian currency notes (FICN). This social and economic mix makes Malda a powder keg. This scenario has to be kept in mind while analyzing the developments on 3 January. Anjuman Ahle Sunnatul Jamaat (AASJ), a Muslim outfit, had called for a protest march against a Hindu Mahasabha leader’s offensive comments on Prophet Muhammad made a month ago.

A self-styled Hindu leader from Uttar Pradesh, Kamlesh Tiwari, had made the derogatory comment that Prophet Muhammad was the first homosexual on earth. He apparently made that comment a day after Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan called RSS leaders homosexuals; he said that is why they did not get married.

Clearly, Azam Khans and Kamlesh Tiwaris are scourges of Indian politics and they deserve to be behind the bars (Tiwari has been sent to jail but Khan is roaming free, a case of minority appeasement?)

The AASJ’s call to protest was not spontaneous; it was held exactly a month after Tiwari’s comment. So the protest march was organized with careful planning, with more than a fortnight’s notice. The organizers had duly informed the police and taken its permission to hold the march. This calls into question the motive of the state administration — why did they not make enough police arrangements if they had given permission for the congregation. After all, it was a Muslim majority area and it was a religious protest march. It could turn volatile.

The state authorities could argue that the area did not have a history of communal conflagration in the last six decades. But it should have known that given the changing contours of politics and economy, the situation could anytime explode. If they did not anticipate it, they did not deserve to be in power.
It is possible that only a few hundred ‘fringe elements’, out of the lakh-strong Muslims who gathered for the protest march, took part in the arson and looting.

But then only a handful of ‘fringe elements’ of the Hindu community entered Akhlaq’s house and killed him in Dadri. In Kaliachak, no one was killed, but one Hindu youth was shot in the leg, but many Hindu shops were burnt in the nearby Baliadanga locality inhabited by the Hindu families. So it was a kind of Dadri in reverse.

The question is: why did this group of fringe elements attack the Kaliachak police station when they had no quarrel with the state government? And why did the violent mob only destroy the police documents but did not touch the weaponry lying in another room of the same police station?

Is it because these goons wanted to destroy the police record of the continuing cases regarding narcotics, fake currency and illegal arms? And the more important question that comes to mind – was the state administration an accomplice in this criminal-communal play? TMC says that it was not ‘communal’ incident; it was a ‘criminal’ incident. But, clearly, it was a ‘criminal’ incident with ‘communal’ overtones. The state government arrested 10 criminals but six are already out on bail. The rest will most probably be out in the next few days.

Thereby, Mamata Banerjee has sent out a message loud and clear that Muslims must support her if they want protection against any state action for the crimes of ‘fringe elements’ within their community.
That gives the BJP an open field to assure the ‘fringe elements’ within the Hindu community in West Bengal to go berserk and still enjoy its support. Malda presages a communal tinderbox in the run-up to the elections in April.

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Updated Date: Jan 13, 2016 13:17:56 IST

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