Nandigram to Nasreen: The Scene Gets Murkier
There was yet another twist to the Nandigram affair when a Muslim organization engaged in running battles with Kolkata police over demands relating to the recent events in Nandigram also called for the expulsion of Taslima Nasreen from India.
This was the first time that the 'attack' by cadres of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) on opposition strongholds in Nandigram was mixed up with the stay of the controversial Bangladeshi writer in India.
To control the situation, the West Bengal government had to call in the army and impose curfew in several Muslim-majority areas in the city. But what rang the alarm bells was the possibility that a Hindu-Muslim confrontation could make resolving the differences in Nandigram and Singur (where the Tatas want to set up a car factory) even more difficult.
Yet, the state government should have anticipated such a development considering that right from the start of the opposition's campaign against the government's move to set up a chemical complex in Nandigram with the help of the Salim Group of Indonesia, the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Hind was involved.
Since a large percentage of Nandigram's population is Muslim, its role was not unexpected. It has also to be clarified that the Jamiat was not involved in Wednesday's disturbances, which were the handiwork of a virtually unknown outfit, the All India Muslim Front, but the Jamiat has nevertheless voiced its opposition to Taslima Nasreen's continued stay in India.
Several months ago, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya had spoken of the part played by Muslim fundamentalists in Nandigram. But his focus had been mainly on the Maoists or Naxalites. The folly of this skewed approach, however, became clear Nov 21.
There is little doubt that there wasn't much advance thinking before the chief minister and his party, the CPI-M, decided to neutralize the police and send in the party's armed cadres to wrest Nandigram from the opposition's control.
While there has been countrywide condemnation of arson and rape by the attackers in Nandigram, this new evidence of the anger of the Muslims is a worrisome signal.
As it is, the involvement of Naxalites means the presence of shadowy underground organizations, which thrive in anarchic conditions. They will have little hesitation in teaming up with Muslim fundamentalists to foment communal trouble - something that mainstream parties like the Trinamil Congress will not like to do.
Now, there are suggestions from the police of another shadowy outfit, the Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), being involved in the Kolkata violence.
The mixing up of the Taslima Nasreen affair with Nandigram is a sign that it isn't only the eviction of peasants from their land that is driving the fundamentalists but also an entirely unrelated question, which is obviously being raised to whip up religious sentiments.
Like Salman Rushdie, Taslima has long been the bete noire of the Muslim bigots, who never lose an opportunity to berate her for her allegedly blasphemous writings.
That she has been allowed to stay in West Bengal and is seeking Indian citizenship is a sore point with the bigots, although it is doubtful whether a majority of ordinary Muslims are greatly perturbed about her living in India.
Even then, as the incidents of Nov 21 showed, it is always possible for an organization to gather a handful of supporters, mainly anti-social elements, over a sensitive issue to bring a city to a standstill.
Not surprisingly, the state government demonstrated that discretion was the better part of ideological commitment to secularism by sending the Bangladeshi writer post haste out of the state. Commenting on the Kolkata disturbances, the well known singer of classical Hindustani songs, Ustad Rashid Khan, a long time resident of Kolkata, attributed the outbreak to the lack of education and 'culture' among the Muslims.
As the Rajinder Sachar committee on social indicators for the community has pointed out, the supposedly secular and minority-friendly leftist government of West Bengal has done little during its three decades in power to improve their position in the matter of education and employment.
For the Left, evidence that the fire of Nandigram is not only refusing to die down but is also assuming new forms is a blow to its claims of being the champion of underdogs.
The Left is also aware that it has never been in a weaker position in their bastion of West Bengal. Nandigram has caused divisions in its own ranks, with the smaller parties expressing their unhappiness with Big Brother CPI(M)'s aggressive tactics, which have been criticized by the judiciary and the National Human Rights Commission. In addition, a fairly large number of left-leaning academics and writers have added their voice to such criticism.
What this means is that in the event of an election, the Left Front cannot be as sure of its success as before, especially if sizable sections of Muslims are persuaded by their leaders to refrain from voting. For the first time since 1977, the Communists may be in danger of losing West Bengal.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at email@example.com)
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