The recently concluded Municipal bodies elections in West Bengal seems to have brought firebrand Mamata Banerjee, whose Trinamool Congress is the second largest group in India's ruling UPA alliance and is also Union Railway Minister, one step more closer to the chair of the Chief Minister of West Bengal at Writer's Building in Kolkata. If it had been any other state than West Bengal, which is being ruled by Left Front since last more than three decades, one would have agreed that local bodies elections rarely reflects the trend for the battle for the highest office in state in future but the massive loss of the base of Left parties in West Bengal is not an ordinary political event and can not be dismissed in lighter vein.
The State has been a strong bastion of the Left movement in India. After the collapse of USSR from where the left have always taken inspirations, many have wondered that for how long the Communists in India would hold their fort. The opponents of Left parties have mocked about their survival and had predicted their downfall sooner or later because of the declining interests in Marx ideology across the globe.
Ironically it's not the declining interest in Marxism which has brought the Left rule to continuous decimation in West Bengal. The arrogant attitude of its leadership, the slow process of development and its biased policies against the Muslims in West Bengal are major factors that are harming the electoral interests of the Left alliance in the State. Being the dominant partner of the Left Front in West Bengal, CPI(M) seems to be the major culprit for the sad state of Left Front's decimation.
Soon after the results of the local bodies were announced, one of the top most leader of Left fort, Mr. Biman Bose, Secretary of CPM in West Bengal, admitted that Left have lost because of the decline of its support amongst the Muslims. He is absolutely right and his is a bold and candid admission by any of the top CPM leaders.
The discontent against the CPM led front in the Muslim community was so high that for the first time in the history of Bali Municipality Board in Howrah District, there would be opposition benches. Incidentally in the 35 member Municipality, all opposition members would be Muslims belonging to Trinamool Congress.
The erosion is not a sudden phenomenon. I have visualised the breeze for upcoming change around 3 years back when the West Bengal chapter of Jamiat Ulama e Hind has spearheaded a campaign against the State Government's move to acquire farmer's land in Singrur and Nadnigram. So jittery was the leadership of the Left parties that they had approached the central leadership of the Jamiat to dissuade the state leadership from the move. For subsequent years, the Muslims of the state have strongly felt that the CPM and its allies have been indulging in acts of discrimination against the Muslims of the State.
Muslims who constitutes a little more than a quarter of the State's population have been the most neglected, marginalised and discriminated group in the state under the three decades of Left rule in West Bengal. The same has been also pointed by the Sacchar Committee, constituted by Manmohan Singh Government during UPA-I tenure to study the Conditions of the Muslims across India.
With no government jobs; no financial backup to Muslim entrepreneurs, denial of opportunities to be Left alliance candidates in elections as per their numerical strength in various elections - from local bodies to Parliament, agricultural land have been one of the basic source of income and empowerment for good percentage of rural Muslims of West Bengal. A substantial number of the farmers effected by the move of the State Government to acquire land for Tata's Nano were Muslims and the State Jamiat found it right opportunity to jump in the fray, along with others, to raise voice against the acquisition of farmer's land for Tata. It was first ever attempt by any of the non political Muslim group in the State to raise its voice in an organised way against the Left hegemony in last 30 years. When ever I have spoken to ordinary Muslims of the State, they have bitterly reacted against the State administration and the Left leadership in last 5 or so years. That was totally new phenomenon for me.
On 3rd March 1978, Jyoti Basu, the then Chief Minister of the State admitted on the floor of the WB legislative Assembly that the Muslims of West Bengal are very very much backward due to many historical reasons. In subsequent election manifestos the Left Front proclaimed the principle of due share to the minorities including the Muslims.
Seven years before the candid admission by Jyoti Basu, the West Bengal Cabinet of Democratic Coalition Government of Congress, Muslim League, P.S.P, C.P.I., Forward Block, Gorkha League, Congress (O) and Jan Sangh has adopted a resolution, on 27th June 1971, for proportionate Reservation for Muslims and other minorities in Public Employment and had decided to appoint Talukdar Commission (J.N. Talukdar I.C.S Retd. and former Chief Secretary of State) to investigate about the reasonable preferences to minorities including Muslims in Government services.
After the fall of the Democratic Coalition Government, the Left parties along with the Muslim League of West Bengal were in the forefront to demand Reservation for Muslims in Employment and had submitted a memorandum to the then Governor in 1972.
Ironically the same Left Front, after taking reigns of power forget their intentions which they have proclaimed through the Talukdar Commission and to their joint agitation for Reservations for Muslims of 1972..
The Left Front not only did nothing to fulfill the promises it had made to the minorities and particularly Muslims - to empower them -educationally, economically and politically but had also bitterly opposed the demand of Reservation for Muslims and even denied them their equitable share in political hierarchy, by denying party nominations to them as per their numerical strength in elections after elections.
Never in 34 years of its ruling history, the CPM and its allies have been able to send more than 7 percent of the Muslim representatives to the State Assembly because of the simple reason that they have never addressed, seriously, the question of low representation of the Muslims in the state legislature.
In the recent concluded Municipal bodies elections, out of 86 contesting candidates, there were just 25 Muslims, accounting to merely 30 percent of the total candidates, of the Left Front in the Distt. of Murshidabad where the Muslim constitutes 70% of the total population. In this highest Muslim concentrated Distt., CPM had not even considered any Muslim worthy to head its party's unit. The most amazing aspect of the CPM's defense of their partisan act is the logic that it is not necessary to have representatives from same communities if they are in a majority in a particular area. If that has been so, why they have failed to give representations to the Muslims from those constituencies where Muslims have lesser numerical strength? The situation in Malda, another densely Muslim concentrated District is not different from that of Murshidabad.
For the first time the Kolkata Municipal Corporation would have the highest number of the Muslim councilors, courtesy Trinamool Congress. Trinamool begged 11 Muslim dominated wards where as combined Left could got just 8 of them (CPM-4, RSP-2, Forwards Block-2) and the Congress 3.
On the issue of the Women Reservation Bill too, the CPM have taken a strong stand to oppose the demand of Muslims and the OBC women to have their sub Quota with in Women Reservation Bill. They are indulging in misleading the nation that after the introduction of the Women quota in the Panchayats and other local bodies, Muslim women have been benefited. Their whole argument is hollow as they deliberately avoids to mention that these Muslim women have been getting elected from those constituencies which have either overwhelming or substantial Muslim population. They also deliberately ignores that the small constituencies having five thousand or so votes can not be compared to sprawling Assembly and Parliamentary constituencies having two hundred thousands or so voters in state Assemblies and ten hundred thousand or so votes in Parliamentary constituencies.
Caught on wrong foot after the Trinamool voiced its concern and lent its support to address the apprehensions of the Muslims on the issue of Women Reservation Bill, the CPM for the first time through Basudeb Bhatacharya tactically tried to be seen supporting the WRB with quota for Muslim women in an all party meeting convened by Congress trouble shooter, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee on April 5th 2010, when Mr. Basudeb conveys, "This is not constitutionally possible. But we are not opposed to looking at the proposal if brought by the government." Mr. Basudeb forgets that with the ongoing process for a major amendment to give quota for Women in the Legislatures, it would be much easier to have a sub quota for Muslim women too. Constitution of India do debars discrimination on the ground of gender too. If it has not been so, there would have been no need to amend the constitution and initiate the process for reserving the seats for women in Parliament and state assemblies.
Instead of opening new modern educational institutions for them, the Left Government through Madarsa Board of West Bengal took control of the Madarsa's in the state and introduced modern subjects in their curriculum. No body can deny the importance of the introduction of the modern subjects in Madarsa's but does that have really helped the Muslim of the state at the larger level ? Sacchar Committee pointed that the most educationally backward Muslims of the country belongs to the state of West Bengal. The statistics of Sacchar are proof of the malaise and the discrimination, the Muslims of the state had faced.
In its long rule of 34 years, the Left Government had not only discouraged the opening of the new educational institutions by the Muslim NGO's through rejection of their applications for recognition years after years but also had not addressed the issue for their educational empowerment by failing to open Government schools in Muslim concentrated pockets of the State. It was nothing but a criminal negligence on part of the Left administration to deny the opportunities of education to the Muslim community in the State.
By indirectly taking control of the Islamic Madarsa's in the State, the Left Government, abdicated itself of its constitutional responsibility for extending educational environment to the Muslims of the state. Most of these madarsas, subsequently became centers of education for pupils of all caste and religions.
After the electoral victory in 2006, the Left leadership through Biman Bose assured the Muslims of Bengal Bengal at the Public Reception organised by Milli Council, which has tactically supported the Left alliance candidates in Assembly elections, that the State Government would ensure the opening of primary schools in every Muslim concentrated village but that promise was never considered worthy to be implemented practically.
If we come to the presence of the Muslim in the Public Employment and the recruitment by the State Government, following statistics are enough to understand the trend of the Left Rule in WB:
On 31st August 1977, the Muslim I.A.S (WB Cadre) were 2% ; Muslims in WB Higher Judicial Services were 2% ; I.P.S (WB Cadre) were 4% ; I.F.S (WB cadre) 1 out of 78 ; Muslims in WB Police Services were 6% ; Muslims in West Bengal Senior Forest Services were NIL.
Out of 211 Officers in Calcutta Corporations 6 were Muslims and out of the total strength of 32,935 employees of the Calcutta Corporations 4,230 were Muslims.
On 1st April 1978, in the Information & Broadcasting Department out of 44 Class I officers there was ONE Muslim ; in Class II officers, out of 76 there was ONE Muslim ; out of 723 Class III employees there were 12 Muslims ; out of 398 Class IV employees there were 15 Muslims.
On 1st April 1978, in Rural & Small Scale Industries Department, out of 119 Class I officers the percentage of Muslims was NIL ; in Class II officers, out of 385 there were 20 Muslims ; out of 1,498 Class III employees there were 53 Muslims ; out of 839 Class IV employees there were 30 Muslims.
On 1st April 1978, in Calcutta State & Transport Department, out of 98 officers there was ONE Muslim and out of 13,232 employees there were 101 Muslims.
Let us see the trend of the recruitment of Muslims in State services in January 1980, nearly after more than two years of the statistics given by the State Government in State Assembly. The Government to various Questions responded with following statistics:
Question No. Date Department No. of Appointments No. of Muslims
129 7/3/80 Fisheries 29 NIL
133 7/3/90 Tourism 07 NIL
137 7/3/80 Public Vehicle 33
141 7/3/80 Cottage & Small
Scale Industries 383 11
138 18/3/80 Commerce &
Industries 223 28
Transport Corp. 1,924 99
North Bengal State
Transport Corp. 133 09
Corporation 624 84
7422 08/3/80 ST & SC Welfare 179 02
737 28/3/80 Pub. Undertakings 639 19
789 28/3/80 Excise 120 05
793 28/3/80 Home 256 08
The numbers of the Muslim recruits speaks loudly about the sincerity of the Left parties leadership of the State in upliftment of the Muslims of West Bengal.
Now let us examine what Sachar Committee had concluded about the plight of the Muslims of West Bengal, after thirty years of the rule of the most secular and supposed to be unbiased combination of Left parties, in the State:
"Having 25% of Muslim population, the ratio of the Muslims in Public employment is just 4.2% in West Bengal. In Public Service Undertaking's the presence of Muslims is NILL."
On February 8th, this year, Chief Minsiter Buddhadeb Bhatacharya had announced 10% quota in Employment for Muslims under OBC Quota in the state. What does that mean? CPM patted on its back for the move and so the other Left parties. One needs to understand that there is only 7 percent total reservation for the OBC communities in the State of West Bengal. If the State Government wishes to give sub quota of 10% to Muslims in 7% quota of OBC's, there can be no cruel joke than the announcement. However even that has not been notified even after four months of the announcement.
Most people usually wondered about the reasons of the indifferent and biased attitude of the Left leadership towards the strong "vote bank" of 25 percent, overwhelming majority of whom have always stood like a rock behind the left combination in every electoral hustings in the state. I have also tried to understand the menance and have concluded to the following observations:
"With the decimation of the Congress in West Bengal, the traditionally dominant groups infiltrated in the Left parties and these groups continue to occupy positions of powers and privileges in spite of the change of political power in the state. Despite the slogan for power to the people, rhetoric for social and economic equality and emphasis for democratic values there has been a strong section in the Left leadership, from the dominant groups, who have influenced the decisions and have exploited the Left's ideology.
Bengal have not been aloof from the regions which have been a breeding ground for those who had strongly desired the revival of the far right Hindutva nationalism. Recently British historian, Nicholas Goodricke-Clarke has revealed that there have been moves by the renowned Bengali spiritualist Savitri Devi to compare Adolf Hitler with "Kalki- the last avatar of Vishnu". According to his studies, Hitler was once worshiped in elite Bengali homes in Calcutta.
The right wing Hindutva forces in India have always admired the politics of Hitler and his Nazism and some even had proclaimed him a great nationalist. It has also been a practice of the right wing political activists to use religious figures to push their political agenda.
The rise of the Left movement in West Bengal and the capture of the political power by them might have forced the right wing forces to change their strategies and might had infiltrated in the Left parties. Though this observation needs a detail study but it can not be dismissed outright. Although the Left leadership do not believe in the caste hierarchy, any one would be astonished to find that the overwhelming majority of the Left leadership is from the upper castes."
One of the major reasons for the diminishing of the Left influence from the cow belt of Northern India, is their lack of trust in and commitment to groom the leadership from the OBC sections of the Hindu society.
There was a time when in Muslim concentrated pockets of northern states of UP, Bihar and Delhi, the Left parties use to have considerable influence. But that had now totally eclipsed and the major reason of the near decimation of the Left in these areas was their failure to groom Muslim leaders. It is important to point that the Muslim pockets have never been the centers of labor movements in Independent India because of their low representation in Government and semi government undertakings. Muslims in these pockets have always been in traditional artisan ship and have supported Left parties because of their anger against the ruling Congress administration and as an alternative to the Congress Party. With the rise of the caste oriented parties since 1980's the Muslims have found better alternatives in these confabulations as these parties have at least groomed leadership from the community to some extent.
Another major reason of the decline of the Left parties influence amongst the Muslims in Northern states is their vocal stand for common civil code and their opposition to the Muslim Personal Laws. Incidentally the Left have groomed and supported most of those, having Muslim names, who have denounced religion and had proudly proclaimed to be non believers. Being sensitive to the issue of religion, the common Muslims ironically found the Left parties in alliance with the far right Hindutva forces on the issue of the Personal Laws and that too played a major role in cementing the gap between them and the Left parties in northern India.
Now about Left relations with the Muslims in Kerala. When ever the Left has been out of power in the southern state of Kerala, it had taken special care to have partners from the Muslim community. With a small swing of 1-2 percent, the results in Kerala dramatically changes power equations. Muslim League has a history of being at logger heads with the Left Front in the State and have been in alliance with the Congress. To counter Muslim League, Left have always tried to get help from other Muslim organisations in the State. In recent past Kerala unit of Jamat e Islami, Indian National League (breakaway group of Indian Union Muslim League), and the cadre of PDP of Abdunnasir Madani have openly supported the Left Front. As an thanks giving to Abdunnasir Madani, the CPM state leadership had campaigned for the release of Madani from Tamil Nadu jail and had not only shared a dais with him but had highly praised his leadership.
After previous Assembly elections, Mr. E. Ahmed, Minister of State for Railways in Union Government, had bitterly mentioned, in one of our discussions, about the role of Jamaat e Islami in the defeat of the Congress and the Muslim League candidates. I was not surprised as I was aware of the politics of Kerala Jamaat.
Recently Mr. V.S. Achutanandan , the Chief Minister of Left Government in Kerala issued a statement on the rise of the Muslim and the Christian communalism in Kerala. Mr. Pinarayi Vijayan, General Secretary Kerala CPI(M), too attacked Jamaat e Islami. The harsh statements and the parting in the relations were not sudden.
Achutanandan sudden discovery of the rise of Christian communalism needs to be seen in light of the merger of Kerala Congress (Joseph) and Kerala Congress (Mani) headed by the Christians. Kerala Congress (Joseph) was part of the LDF alliance and had quited LDF to pave for the merger with the Joseph group. Interestingly the ruling LDF under Achutanandan admitted Mr. P.C. Thomas group of Kerala Congress into LDF. P.C. Thomas was Minister of State and a coalition partner in the NDA regime led by BJP's 'mukhauta', Mr.Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
The confrontation with the Muslim groups started when Solidarity, the youth wing of Jamaat e Islami has revived its agitation to oppose the acquisition of land for broadening the highway near Kinnalur in Mallapuram Distt. of Kerala. During the reign of UDF government too, the Solidarity was at the forefront to oppose the move to acquire land by the then UDF Government led by Congress and ironically the Left parties have supported the agitation. Now when the LDF government intended to revive the project and initiated process to acquire land for the Highway, Solidarity, revived its agitation to oppose the move.
The other major reason of the confrontation was the announcement by Kerala Jamaat to field 700 candidates in the upcoming Panchayat elections. The announcement sent shock waves to the LDF. They fears a heavy loss in the Panchayat elections with the entry of the Jamaat in the fray.
In another important development the Indian National League (INL) has severed its ties with the LDF. The provocation was LDF refusal to admit, formally, the Indian National League into the LDF alliance. INL was waiting for too long and came to the conclusion that LDF desires their support but is not ready to give them the status of a partner. Strangely the LDF has different yard stick for different groups. They have no hesitation of admitting a former BJP ally who is heading a Christian dominated breakaway group of Kerala Congress but have hesitation in giving equal status to the INL, as they have suddenly discovered its cadre communal too.
(The writer is General Secretary, Movement for Empowerment for Muslim Indians (MOEMIN) and Member, National Integration Council, India and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)