By Justice Markandey Katju-
A group of over 53 prominent Bengali Muslims, among them educationists, medical doctors and others, have sent a letter recently to the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerji calling for strong action against Muslims involved in the attack on junior doctors in NRS Hospital, Kolkata and on former Miss India Ushoshi Sen. They wrote ” The attackers in both cases were members of our community. We are aggrieved and embarrassed. Bring the assailants to book, not just in these instances, but in every instance where Muslims are involved. They should not be allowed to get away scot-free just because they are Muslims. This will send out a message that members of our community are not being shielded or appeased (as most people believe) “.
Very noble sentiments indeed. But where were these ‘prominent’ Bengali Muslims when Mamata Banerji was following the policy of Muslim appeasement consistently and continuously since 2011 when she came to power? Their voices were never heard earlier. Is it only the result of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections which has aroused them from their slumber?
West Bengal has 27% Muslims and 71% Hindus. Mamata Banerji’s strategy was to keep Muslims as ‘ milch cows ‘ for getting their votes (as she reportedly said to media persons recently while going for Iftaar ), overlooking the fact that there were Hindus too in West Bengal.
In April 2011, with an eye on the coming WB panchayat elections, Mamata announced salaries of Rs 2500 per month to imams and Rs 1500 per month to muezzins of each of the 30,000 mosques in West Bengal. She also ordered the grant of land to imams for building houses, and funds for the education of their children. This order was struck down by the Calcutta High Court, which called it arbitrary and squandering of public money to get votes. The Court observed ” It is well settled that the state cannot patronize or favor any particular religion. Secularism is part of the basic structure of the Constitution. ”
Where were these ‘prominent’ West Bengal Muslims who have now written a letter to Mamata Banerji when she was giving these doles to imams and muezzins? Were locks placed on their mouths then?
In the recent elections poll posters of Mamata Banerji offering namaaz were displayed in some places. And this was not for the first time. In September 2010 before the West Bengal Assembly elections, when Mamata was the Railway Minister, she had issued advertisements with pictures of her offering namaz, in the backdrop of Islamic motifs– the crescent moon, mosque, etc.
Why did not the ‘prominent’ Bengali Muslims who have suddenly awakened now protest against this? Did they not realize how much Bengali Hindus would have resented this?
Certain restrictions on immersion after Durga Puja were imposed by Mamata Banerji, allegedly on the ground of maintaining law and order as it coincided with Muharram. But law and order could have been maintained by deploying additional police force at places where any incidents were likely. The Calcutta High Court held these restrictions arbitrary and ‘ a clear endeavor by the state to appease minorities “. The Court observed ” The state government has been irresponsibly brazen in its conduct of being partial to one community thereby infringing upon the fundamental right of people worshipping Ma Durga. Such restriction has never been placed on immersion of Durga idols during Vijay Dashmi on earlier occasions in Bengal “.
Did the ‘prominent’ individuals, who have now awakened from their long sleep like Kumbhakaran, protest against these restrictions? Or has wisdom dawned on them only after the BJP victories and TMC reverses in West Bengal in the recent Lok Sabha polls?
And did these ‘prominent’ Bengali Muslims protest when 4 lac Kashmiri Pandits (who were only 4% of the entire Kashmiri population ) were hounded out of the Kashmir valley by Islamic fundamentalists after killing some and terrorizing others? Mosques in Kashmir used to blare out that Kashmiri Pandits must either convert to Islam or get out of Kashmir. Mobs of Kashmiri Muslims used to go to houses of Kashmiri Pandits and shout that the males should get out of Kashmir but the women would not be allowed to leave. Notices were posted on doors of Kashmiri Pandits that they must leave Kashmir or be killed. Did the ‘prominent’ Bengali Muslims openly protest against these atrocities? I never heard of it.
Muslims raise a big hue and cry over Israeli attacks on Palestinians. But they were mum when atrocities on Hindus, Christians and Sikhs were committed much nearer home in Kashmir or in Pakistan
Secularism cannot be one-way traffic, it has to be two-way traffic. Many Muslims forget this.
The ‘prominent ‘ individuals who wrote to Mamata Banerji have asked her to ‘ shun vote bank politics.’ They could have been regarded sincere had they said this earlier, not after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
As the Hindi adage goes “Ab pachtaye hot kya, jab chidiyan chug gayin khet.”
[Justice Markandey Katju is former Judge, Supreme Court of India and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own]