By Justice Markandey Katju
The West Bengal state assembly elections have started, and the opinion poll predictions are that while its seats will be greatly reduced, Chief Minister Mamata Banerji’s Trinamul Congress ( TMC ) will still have a majority in the 294 seat legislature, while BJP seats may rise from 3 in 2016 to 112, which will be a tremendous increase..
West Bengal was for long a bastion of secularism, and the pro Hindu right-wing Bhartiya Janta Party ( BJP ) had earlier hardly any presence in the state. The parties which came to power after Independence, first the Congress, then the CPM led left front, and finally, the TMC of Mamata Banerji, were all secular parties, and the BJP could win only 3 seats in the 294 seat state legislature in the 2016 state assembly elections..
However, in the 2019 parliamentary elections, the BJP secured 18 out of the 42 seats from West Bengal. This was an exponential shift of a large number of Hindu voters from the secular parties to the BJP and shows tremendous religious polarisation in the state in recent years. I blame Mamata Banerji entirely for this.
In West Bengal about 70% population is Hindu, and about 28% is Muslim. Mamata Banerji’s thinking was that she must keep the Muslim vote securely with her, and for this, she did 5 things which greatly offended and alienated the Hindu majority, who started thinking that for Mamata only Muslims exist, and Hindus don’t. These were :
(1) Soon after becoming Chief Minister she announced that every imam of a masjid in West Bengal will be paid Rs 2500 p.m. and every muezzin Rs 1500 p.m. and they will also be given housing subsidies and other benefits.
No such bounty was to be given to Hindu priests, and this greatly offended the Hindus. This order was quashed ax discriminatory by the Calcutta High Court
(2) She also announced a proposal for job reservations for Muslims
(3) She prohibited Durga Puja idol immersion, which is a centuries old custom in Bengal, on 30th September 1st October 2017 as it was coinciding with Muharram. This was also strongly criticised by the Calcutta High Court.
Durga Puja is perhaps the most sacred festival of Hindus in Bengal, and the step taken by Mamata Banerji, which was perceived as another part of her Muslim appeasement policy, deeply offended the Hindus
(4) Mamata led processions in Kolkata against the Citizenship Amendment Act, and this, too, antagonised the Hindus, who fear influx of a large number of Muslim immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, and therefore support the CAA..
(5) She got arrested persons shouting ‘Jai Shri Ram’
All this has been perceived by most of the 70% Hindu population of West Bengal as Muslim appeasement, calculated to solidify the Muslim vote bank with TMC. Consequently, many Hindus, who were earlier supporting secular parties, have started feeling that they hardly exist for Mamata, even though they are in the majority, and hence they have gravitated to the BJP..