People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXIII

No. 23  

June 7, 2009

 

WEST BENGAL

 

Disinformation Abounds on the Issue of Minorities

 

Sheikh Saeedul-Haque

 

The issue of development of the Muslim minorities has been one of the important issues on which opposition forces in West Bengal have been running a constant disinformation campaign against the CPI(M) and the Left Front government, more so since the last panchayat polls in the state. It is being propagated for some time that a good section of the Muslims in the state has deserted the Left and the CPI(M). But is it the truth? That the Muslims of the state have some misgivings about the Left is undeniable. But the way it has been exaggerated is equally undeniable. If it had been so, the Left would not have won the Murshidabad zilla parishad, despite the large-scale use of money power and muscle power against it. Nor would have the number of votes significantly gone up in Maldah, despite the organisational weaknesses of several kinds. In the local bodies’ polls, the Left fared much better in Coochbehar, Burdwan and Birbhum also, while its performance could definitely have been much better if only there had been no division of votes among the Front partners. The fact is that a substantial section of the minorities has been with the Left for a long time, and has been taking part in the grassroots level struggles along with the Left parties. They have also been active in running the local bodies in the state. That is why the opposition parties are fighting a war of nerves to scare the minorities away from the Left Front, and the ongoind disinformation campaign is a part of this war. Below we discuss some of the issues involved in this disinformation campaign.  

 

IN terms of the percentage of Muslim minority in population, West Bengal ranks third among the Indian states, after Jammu & Kashmir and Assam. Here, the Muslims’ share in the population was 25.8 per cent, and now stands at more than 26 per cent. In the state, Murshidabad, Maldah and West Dinajpur are the districts having more than 50 per cent of the Muslims in population, while it is 26 to 40 per cent in Birbhum, North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas, Nadia, Howrah and Coochbehar. Muslims have 20 per cent share in the population in Burdwan, Kolkata and some other areas. Among the 126 urban areas, Dhulian, Jangipur, Nalahatti, Beldanga, Badariya, Pujali and Uluberia have more than 50 per cent Muslims in the population, while Maheshtala, Dalkhola and Budge Budge account for 25 to 40 per cent.

Taking the country as a whole, about 25 per cent people live in urban areas while the corresponding share is 35 per cent among the Muslims. The situation in west Bengal is radically different; here Muslims account for 17 per cent of the urban population and a good majority of them live in the rural areas, earning their livelihood from agriculture and related occupations.

 

MINORITIES AND

THE LEFT FRONT

The leftist parties and the Left Front government of the state have been fighting for the rights and welfare of the Muslim minorities for decades together. At the same time, they have been making all-out attempts to bring them to the struggles of the toiling people, thus strengthening secularism in the country. Over the last three decades, the Left Front government has chalked out several schemes for the minorities, and these are still in operation. These included an Action Plan for the minorities as well as the Roadmap for Minority Development: A District-wise Approach. The Department of Minority Development and Madrassa Education has been further strengthened. A publication brought out by this department gives graphic details, along with all the relevant data, regarding the work done by the Left Front government in this regard.

Nowadays, a disinformation campaign against the Left Front and the CPI(M) is in full swing and the issues involved include the following: (1) the Sachar committee report; (2) reservation for the Muslims in jobs; (3) takeover of Muslims’ lands for industrialisation; (4) the irreligiosity of the communists, etc. But, needless to say, the need today is of a discussion on these issue on the basis of facts and figures, so that no section of the population is swayed by ungrounded propaganda.

One must note that, to a good extent, religion still determines the social conduct of the Muslim masses and that the ulema and moulvis still have the monopoly of interpretation of the sacred Islamic texts.

 

SACHAR

REPORT

On the basis of an observation in the Sachar committee report, propaganda is on that Muslims are quite backward in West Bengal. But one must not forget that this report concerns the social, economic and educational status of Muslims of the whole country and not of West Bengal alone. It is not that Muslims of other Indian states have moved ahead while those of West Bengal are lagging behind, while this is the impression the interested quarters are trying to create. Moreover, one cannot say that the Muslims of West Bengal were well educated and prosperous before 1977 and that their status has gone down in the last three decades. Figures don’t confirm any such conclusion.

One must also bear in mind that the backwardness of the Muslims in Bengal has been a legacy of history. For example, while the Permanent Settlement of 1793 gave a number of Hindus the status of zamindars, a majority of the Muslims became the rent-paying tenants. Barring the opening of a few madrassas, there was nothing to show that Muslims took to modern education to any significant extent. Moreover, after the partition of the country, a good proportion of the educated  Muslims migrated to East Pakistan, now Bangladesh.

The Left Front does not claim that it has brought the Muslims of West Bengal out of their backwardness, but it has indeed taken up several positive steps for their development and is still working along these lines. This has been going on since much before the Sachar report came out. One example is the spread of madrassa education and the modernisation of its textbooks, and this is something acclaimed all over the country. The state had had only 236 madrassas before 1977 and the state government annually spent only five lakh rupees for them. But now their number has  gone up to 506, with the state government spending Rs 233 crore per annum for their upkeep and development.

It is also notable that the CPI(M) did not reject the Sachar committee report. On the country, in view of the situation it underlined, it tried to persuade the central government to energetically implement the committee’s recommendations. However, the party did point out some of the misgivings which the report had about the record of the Left Front government of West Bengal. For example, it would have been better if there had been a data-based analysis of the benefits accruing to the Muslim masses because of the success of the land reform programme and the devolution of powers through the panchayati raj system in the state. Similarly, there should have been an accounting of the proportion of Muslim teachers working in the madrassas and other kinds of schools.

 

SECURITY AND

IDENTITY ISSUES

Detailing the situation of the Muslim community in an all-India perspective, the Sachar report highlighted the issues like their security, identity and equality. But those running a disinformation campaign against the Left, are deliberately seeking to relegate to the background such issues as the identity and security of the community.

The fact, however, is that the Muslims of West Bengal are much ahead of their counterparts in other states in the matter of their identity, safety and social security. The Left and democratic movements as well as the secular masses of the state have played a seminal role in assiduously creating this situation. And the eminently secular outlook of the Left Front government has also played a significant role in preserving and strengthening this situation.

Now the question is: Have the Muslims of West Bengal progressed in the last three decades or moved backward? Instead of judging this issue on the basis of the Sachar report, one would better look at the ground situation in one’s own village, region or ward, and the reality would come out at once. One must compare the situation of the Bengal Muslims before 1977 with that in 2009, in the matter of education, economic status, infrastructure development etc, in the matter of jobs, business, ownership of tractors, motorcycles and pucca houses etc. This would reveal that the Muslims of West Bengal have almost as much progressed in various areas as the other communities have, and that they are as deprived in jobs as several other communities are in the matter of jobs etc. The conclusion is obvious: it is not so that the Muslims have lagged behind here while others have moved ahead.

        

QUESTION OF

RESERVATION

The Sachar committee has not dealt with the question of reservation for Muslims, in any precise manner. Its report talks of diversity of opinion in this regard and makes some definite proposals.

On the basis of occupation and social status, the Sachar committee divides the Muslim community into three parts --- Arzaal, Ajlaaf and Ashraaf --- and talks of the necessity of special provisions for the Arzaal, i e the Muslim dalits. There was, for long, the provision of reservation for Muslims in parts of what are Kerala and Karnataka today, but the constitution of independent India strictly forbade its provision for any group of people on the basis of religion. More recently, the Supreme Court rejected a move made by the Andhra Pradesh government in this regard. The charter of demands submitted by the CPI(M) talked of protection for the Muslim dalits. In the recent period, the Justice Raghunath Mishra committee recommended the inclusion of dalit Muslims and dalit Christians among the beneficiaries of reservation. But the central government has not taken any step in this direction so far.

One must also bear in mind that reservation is not the panacea for the myriad problems facing a community. If that were so, the plight of the scheduled castes and tribes would not have been as pathetic as it is today --- even after six decades of reservation.

 

TAKEOVER OF

MUSLIMS’ LANDS (!)

A dangerous piece of disinformation against the CPI(M) and the Left is that Muslim majority areas were carefully identified for acquisition of land for industrialisation, and that only the plots of land belonging to the Muslims were taken over. Is it possible, in the first place? Can one identify that this is a Hindu field and that one is a Muslim field? In fact, the main consideration in this regard geographical. Once an area is identified for setting up a factory, a government tries to acquire the necessary land from the whole area, without making a distinction on the basis of caste or religion. Did the Muslims lose more land than others when the Durgapur steel plant was set up or those in Shalbani, Raghunathpur or Salanpur were set up? It is not so by any means. In fact, any move to raise such bogeys is to foment communal feelings; it is a dangerous trend.

Secret propaganda is going on in some of the mosques and some Muslim wards that communists are atheists and therefore kafirs (infidels). It is true that communists subscribe to the philosophy of dialectical materialism and they are proud of it. But they never acted against any particular religion or its adherents. In fact, their belief is that religion is one’s personal affair, and that everybody has a right to believe in the religion of her or his choice. But religion and fundamentalism are two different things, and communists do oppose religious fundamentalism, dogmatism and fanaticism.

But what are doing those who are crying hoarse against the communists? They are seeking to misuse and abuse religion for their narrow political goals. This is no religiosity but a trade in religion. Are not these fellows kafirs in a very real sense?  

As a part of our rebuttal of all the anti-communist disinformation campaign, we have to quite emphatically assert that not the divisive and misleading slogan of Muslim unity but the unity of the secular and democratic forces the biggest safeguard for the interests of Muslims in the whole country and in West Bengal. It is this unity which we have to strengthen. The need today is to sharpen the class struggle, to forge the mass movements, and to enhance the people’s consciousness to this end.