Durga Puja vs Muharram: Mamata Banerjee’s Notorious Communal Gambling


After a brief lull, following a communal carnage in Basirhat area of North 24 Paragana district, West Bengal is again going to get into another bigger communal turmoil, as Mamata Banerjee, in her attempt to covertly shower blessings on the electoral fortune of the BJP in the state, took a communally biased decision to bar the immersion of Durga idols on the day of Dashami, i.e. the last day of the widely celebrated Durga Puja in the state, to ensure that the Muharram processions of the Shia Muslims can pass without clashing with the Durga Puja processions in different areas of the state.

This decision, which is not unprecedented in nature due to her past tryst with Muslim appeasement politics that has acted as a fortune-booster for the Hindutva camp’s West Bengal mission, proves that the Trinamool Congress is hand-in-glove with the BJP and the RSS, its former official partners, to ensure that the voters of West Bengal are divided along communal lines rather than on ideological lines. The TMC is replicating the experiments of nasty Muslim appeasement, done by the Congress Party in various parts of the country, which resulted in the rise of the burly Hindutva menace on one hand, and on the other, it deteriorated the socio-economic condition of the Muslim community, which has been thrown into the gorge of misery and agony.

In over a period of six years, West Bengal experienced a rapid growth in communal politics, which it was a stranger to for decades. Despite the periodic Muslim appeasement and Hindu appeasement policies adopted by the previous Left Front government, religion and politics were never so much intermingled as they have been now, under the rule of Mamata Banerjee, who is trying to project herself as a true messiah of West Bengal’s 27 percent strong Muslim population and also eyeing an opportunity to play a crucial role in the opposition camp during the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

The venom of communal hatred is spewed by different stakeholders of West Bengal’s politics, who are following a nefarious agenda of dividing the population of the state on communal lines. While the TMC is certain about the consolidation of the Muslim vote bank and is also confident about capturing a sizeable portion of secular Hindu voters, the RSS, through its numerous unofficial affiliates like the Hindu Samhati, is trying to influence the broad masses of Bengali Dalits, popularly called Namasudras, and the backward castes of the state, to bring them under the umbrella of Hindutva fascism. The BJP is certainly on its way to becoming the second key player in West Bengal politics, all thanks to Mamata Banerjee’s divisive and dangerous communal politics.  

Since time immemorial, the Bengali Hindus and the Bengali Muslims, including the minority Shia Muslims, respected each other’s festivities and rituals and despite severe antagonisms and bitterness, which remained sub-layered since the partition of the country, never let the differences turn into armed conflicts, as was the case in rest of India. Muharram and Durga Puja have been observed, without failure, each year and on many occasions, the dates of the festivals coincided in the past too, but never was the issue blown out of proportion by the erstwhile Left Front government like what Mamata Banerjee did. It’s not the first time that Mamata Banerjee has stooped to unapologetic Muslim appeasement by adopting biased decisions to irk the majority Hindu community, especially at a time when the BJP and the RSS are working overtime to impart its venomous ideology on the people of West Bengal and poaching the religious Hindu vote bank of the TMC even in the rural hinterlands.

In 2015 and 2016, Mamata Banerjee’s government tried similar prohibitive measures and thereby alienated a large section of the Hindu community from itself and threw them into the lap of the Hindutva camp. Grasping that opportunity, the RSS and the Hindutva hate mongers made a large section of backward caste and Namasudra Bengali Hindus believe in the vitriol that it spreads against the Muslim community.  They were able to brainwash a lot of Hindus from both upper-caste, backward caste and Namasudra backgrounds about Mamata Banerjee’s unapologetic Muslim appeasement policy and brought a crack in the social unity among the people.

It was the same issue of prohibiting the immersion of Durga idols due to Muharram Tazia processions that led to several communal clashes in the state over the last two years. The intense communal propaganda by the RSS, BJP, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and Hindu Samhati over the Durga idol immersion restrictions, incited communal carnage throughout West Bengal last year during Muharram processions. The riots erupted in Kharagpur, Chandannagar, Dhulagarh and Hazi Nagar under the precision planning and supervision of the Hindutva camp, while the TMC and its government fanned the flames of those communal conflicts, rather than dousing, to consolidate the panic-stricken Muslim community under its banner.

Most of the big Durga Puja organisers anyhow never immerse their idols on Dashami since ages. The processions to immerse the Durga idol starts in late afternoon and ends around late evening. While the Shia community’s Tazia and Matam starts in mid-afternoon and ends by late afternoon when they bury their Tazia in the local Karbala sites. These two could be simultaneously managed with ease, as the erstwhile Left Front government did, during its rule, and the situation never went haywire because the administration was then under a stringent pressure to highlight the communal cohesiveness in West Bengal.

For Mamata Banerjee, the story is different; the more riots and communal tensions will happen in West Bengal, the more her party can consolidate the scared Muslims under its banner and also draw the support of the Bengali Hindu seculars who despise the communal bigots of the saffron brigade and are also not hopeful about the resurgence of the parliamentary left, now in the mortuary of Indian politics.

If we consider Mamata Banerjee’s decision to not allow Durga idol immersion on the day of Dashami, which coincides with Muharram, on the account that it can fuel communal tensions in the state, then we can come to the following two conclusions:

The communal harmony that existed among the workers, peasants and common people of all communities in West Bengal for decades, despite inter-community bitterness and mistrust, has wrecked now under Mamata Banerjee’s rule. West Bengal, the state that was called the paradise of communal harmony, despite several shortcomings, has now become a paradise for the communal fascists and divisive forces due to the total failure of Mamata Banerjee and the TMC in strengthening social cohesion. The TMC and its leadership must accept that under their six-years rule, West Bengal has been turned into a fiefdom of communal mobsters and riot instigators. The TMC must accept its failure in maintaining law and order that the feral Hindutva mobsters are rampaging across West Bengal, and on the occasions like Ram Navami or Hanuman Jayanti, they are able to organise large-scale armed rallies under the nose of the administration, using the manpower imported from states like Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat. All of this is happening during the TMC rule and the ruling party, which otherwise unleashes barbaric terror to cleanse political opposition from different areas of the state, is not doing anything, at least in public sphere, to stop the cavalcade of Hindutva bigots led by Narendra Modi and his coterie. This indicates that the TMC is working along with the RSS and the Hindutva camp, secretly, to execute a nefarious plan of the Hindutva fascists in the state. The TMC and Mamata Banerjee must take the responsibility of destroying West Bengal’s communal harmony through their misdeeds, one after another, and must stop wearing that secular mask, wearing which they hoodwink the poor Muslim people of the state and the secular Hindus to believe that her government is supporting the unity of the people rather than the divisive politicians.

If we consider the arguments of Mamata Banerjee and the TMC that says West Bengal is still an oasis in the violence-ravaged India, as accurate statements, then it must be the utmost failure of the state administration, led by the narcissist chief minister and her coterie, in maintaining law and order, as the government is simply acknowledging by imposing such prohibition on Durga idol immersion due to Muharram processions that it cannot prevent untoward incidents of communal violence sparked by a handful of anti-social elements hired by the RSS and other Hindutva groups like the Hindu Samhati. If the government is so sure that communal conflagrations will be sparked by the Hindutva terror mongers, then why not crack the whip and unleash the state-terror on such Hindutva terrorists who are hell-bent to destroy West Bengal? Mamata Banerjee’s government saw swiftness in deploying paramilitary forces to suppress the rebellion of the tribal people in Lalgarh, it unleashed brutal police force to thrash students in Jadavpur University, it unleashed state-terror on the anti-land acquisition agitators in Bhangar and arrested its leadership and slapped UAPA against them. Why not she and her government show some more swiftness and slap the most stringent anti-terror laws on the troublemakers who are determined to take the state into a more perilous path than what the Maoists in Lalgarh or the anti-land acquisition agitators in Bhangar ever planned? By not cracking down on the Hindutva terror modules and by not thwarting their rioting plans, which are now public, the Mamata Banerjee government is rather providing more ammo to the arsenal of those very Hindutva hate mongers so that they can now instigate more people by citing the government’s biased decision. Isn’t this an act of treachery by the TMC government, which the Muslims and the secular people trusted as a vessel of peace and unity?

In this era of corporate-sponsored Durga Pujas, it’s unlikely that the big clubs, headed by the Trinamool Congress top brass, will anyways participate in the idol immersion ceremony on Dashami itself, as they prolong their commercial events to increase the ROI of the Durga Pujas. Here the problem lies. Only the smaller Durga Puja organisers will opt to immerse the idols on Dashami. RSS’ West Bengal chief and a notorious riot-monger, Jishnu Bose appealed to those smaller Durga Puja organisers and non-Bengali Akharas to carry out idol immersion processions defying the TMC-led government’s prohibition orders. The RSS leader and the BJP state president Dilip Ghosh too called upon the Hindus to show their strength on this occasion. Hindutva terror outfit Hindu Samhati leader Tapan Ghosh is also enthusiastically inciting the smaller Durga Puja organisers to join the bandwagon of Hindutva and vitiate the environment of West Bengal.

Since years the corporate-owned mainstream media is spewing hatred against the Muslims of West Bengal and building up communal hatred by carrying out perception management campaigns through their shrewd coverages like highly hyped stories on Muslim growth rate in the state, which helps the BJP to build up its communal narratives and then drive the Hindutva-incensed feral mob to carry out carnages in the state and thereby create a condition where either Mamata Banerjee grants them greater freedom and rights or just capitulates to their might, as this former partner of the BJP will never risk her hard-won seat for any sort of ideological standpoint. Mamata Banerjee is a subterfuge, using whom as a bait, the Hindutva camp led by the RSS and the Modi government is building up a nationwide hatred campaign against the Muslim community. The reluctance of the Mamata Banerjee government in curbing the growth of hatred mongering, except for arresting few small-time BJP leaders, especially its indifference towards the online hatred mongers, is making the very Muslims and other minorities feel more insecure in the state that they have called home since years.

The Shia community has already expressed its reservations and agony over being drawn unnecessarily into a controversy of this magnitude. Being a minority and also an exploited community within the minority community itself, the Shias are not enjoying a deliberate communal conflagration being planned by the state government and the RSS-led Hindutva camp around one of its most widely observed ceremony, a ceremony of grief and mourning. The Mamata Banerjee government, which is also hand-in-glove with the Sunni fundamentalist organisations and arch-reactionary Salafist ulemas, who are trying to drag the progressive Bengali Muslims into the abyss of darkness and religious bigotry, is now using the Shia community as a scapegoat to ensure that it can also divide the Muslim community in the state along sectarian lines at the time when Hindutva fascism is vigorously expanding, and thereby weaken the options for those democratic and progressive forces who are trying to unite the broad masses of exploited and oppressed Namasudras, Tribals, minorities like Muslims and Christians against the tyrannical rule of Hindutva fascism.

West Bengal may burn in the flames of hatred and fratricide as the spectre of 1946 looms large over its dark sky. By bringing up this notorious agenda of prohibiting Durga idol immersion on Muharram, the TMC government has clarified its standpoint, it wants to become a partner of the communal hate mongers. The communal tension among overwhelming Hindus, especially the Namasudras, the backward castes and the Tribal people and the Muslims in West Bengal will certainly affect the future of anti-land acquisition struggles waged by the broad masses against the government in places like Bhangar and Bhava Dighi. It’s also a fact that the befitting response to this type of communal agendas can be actually given by intensifying such democratic and progressive struggles against land acquisition, capitalist exploitation, feudal oppression and the tyranny of the gang lords associated with the ruling party. The unity of the people, tempered through such struggles, inspired by the spirit of Nandigram and Singur, will definitely give a new dimension to the struggle against Hindutva fascism and Salafist fundamentalism in West Bengal and thrash the hopes and aspirations of the communal hate mongers from all quarters and doom their fortune in the state, which can then regain its status as an oasis as well as the guiding star of communal harmony in India.

Neeladri Mukherjee is a former high school teacher and a Rabindra Sangeet lover. An M.A. in Political Science (not entire), Neeladri is a close observer of West Bengal politics, South Asian affairs and the trade union movement.

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