Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own.
I spoke recently to a Bengali Muslim friend of mine living in Kolkata and asked him about the prospects in the coming West Bengal state assembly elections (due in April-May 2021). He said it is likely the BJP will win. The reason he gave was that there has been tremendous polarization on religious lines in West Bengal, and most of the 70% Hindus in the state will vote for BJP.
West Bengal was a secular bastion, but of late communalism has exponentially increased. This shift is largely due to Chief Minister Mamata Banerji’s short-sighted Muslim appeasement policy, which deeply antagonized the Hindus. Muslims are about 27-28% in West Bengal, and probably Mamata thought that she must keep secure this vote bank.
For this end she took these measures (1) In April 2012 she announced a grant of Rs 2500 to each imam and Rs 1500 to each muezzin of every mosque in the state (and there are thousands of them), apart from. Other sops like scholarships in educational institutions to Muslim children, and housing and land grants to the imams. This order was declared discriminatory and unconstitutional by the Calcutta High Court (2) She prohibited Durga Puja idol immersion after 4 p.m. on 12th October 2016, since the next day, 13th October, was Muharram. This order, which estranged and greatly embittered the Hindus, was also struck down by the Calcutta High Court, with strictures against the state govt. (3) She led anti-NRC and anti CAA rallies in Kolkata, which antagonized the majority Hindu community in the state, which felt that these laws were necessary to prevent a huge influx of Bangladeshi Muslims into the state. (4) In May 2019 she got those who shouted ‘ Jai Shri Ram ‘ near her convoy arrested.
My friend told me that even many Muslims in West Bengal has turned against Mamata Banerji due to her mercurial temperament. They feel her vociferous and vehement pro-Muslim stance has turned their Hindu brethren, with whom they had lived in amity for long, communal and anti-Muslim, thus harming Muslims.
After Independence the Congress-ruled the state till 1967, when the Left Front led by the CPM came to power which ruled till 2011, and after that Mamata Banerji’s TMC has ruled. The Congress cadre largely went over to the TMC, but now it seems a large section of the Hindus among both CPM and even the TMC have gone over to the BJP.
This seems evident from the fact that whereas in the state assembly elections of 2016 the BJP had got only 3 out of the 294 seats, in 2019: Lok Sabha elections it won 18 of the 42 seats from West Bengal. This colossal increase can only be explained by the fact that there has been massive religious polarization in West Bengal in recent years, and this, coupled with the split in Muslim votes which may be caused by Owaisi’s AIMIM ( as happened in Bihar ), portends a clear BJP victory in the coming state assembly elections.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah and the BJP President Nadda have announced they will be coming every month to West Bengal, and preparations are in full swing for the coming elections. It appears that the saffron flag will soon be flying over Writers’ Building.