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Taking Stock
Price of Betrayal
By Rizwan Ullah

Rizwan UllahIn the two preceding articles (MG April 1-15and MG April 16-30) I stated that during the years following the independence Muslims of West Bengal had no voice although half a dozen Urdu dailies and some periodicals were coming out from Calcutta. The ruling Congress party had taken Muslim votes for granted and did not care a fig for them. Muslim masses were groping in total darkness, floating in a rudderless ship.

The Urdu press failed to show even a glimpse of light. The Muslim press was free in the sense that it could display news reports anyway it liked. But the freedom of the press lies in the freedom to comment on issues as they arise. That freedom was far to seek. People from the intelligence department and their agents haunted newspaper offices little realizing that the exposure of their identity was a disqualification.

The decade of sixties opened with a good score of anti-Muslim riots which had a definite pattern, that is, to destroy home and small scale industries run by Muslims, throwing Muslim artisans out of their jobs and chasing away Muslim workers from the factories in the industrial belt of the eastern states. Calcutta had its share in a big way. Worst riots broke out in 1964.

Muslims suffered heavily. The communist party too could not do any good in those dark days as it was overwhelmingly involved in anti-US agitations in the wake of American inroads in Korea and later in Vietnam. This overindulgence in the proxy on behalf of the erstwhile Soviet Union distracted party’s attention from the issues boiling at home. Thus for the communists and as a matter of fact for all progressive forces many years were wasted and lost. That was one reason among others for the unrest in the emerging generation of youth. It took various forms of violent movements, which is not the subject matter of this writing. But still it may be pointed out for the benefit of all that the agitational politics detracts attention from constructive and developmental activities and results in the unrest in the society as a whole.

However, the Muslims of West Bengal had hardly come out of the trauma of communal riots when they were overtaken by the ominous shadow of the Indo-Pak war of 1965. It was then that most vicious act was committed by the ruling Congress party in the state and as a consequence it lost the mandate for ruling the state any longer but for a short stint under the chief ministership of Sidharta Shankar Ray with the blessings of Mrs Indira Gandhi. As soon as the war broke out thousands of Muslims all over the state were indiscriminately arrested overnight. They included several Urdu editors in addition to many respectable and elderly Muslims including those who were known Congress supporters and party workers. They were gradually released months after the end of the war. It was a severe shock to the Muslim community followed by a big jolt for the ruling Congress party in the forthcoming general elections. The party had to pay a heavy price for its blind foolishness just as the erstwhile Soviet Union had to pay after its aggressive involvement in Afghanistan. The West Bengal Congress lost the election and had to face the split.

When a stable society breaks up from within, it raises dust in addition to the splinters and results in the emergence of conflicting groups fighting for a hold. Bangla Congress, a splinter group of the Congress led by Ajoy Kumar Mookherjee formed a coalition government with the Communist party in 1967. Jyoti Basu was deputy Chief Minister. This government was short lived for it was menaced from within by coalition partners and by more aggressive and extremist elements such as Naxalites and other war groups on the eastern, western and northern fringes of the state.

The Congress party in West Bengal was so much drunk and blind with power that it could not see other blocks of voters also such as workers in the industrial belt. Left parties rightly cultivated them. They too had an umbrella, the erstwhile Soviet Union. It was helping the socialistic pattern of society, that is Bharat, in establishing the infrastructure for heavy industries which in due course accommodated a huge working force which formed a big vote bank for left parties. At the same time another vote bank for these parties was in the making, the East Pakistan refugees. In due course they proved to be a powerful pool of party workers. Failure of the then ruling party in settling them roused their ire against it and they were more than ready to try others.

The biggest blunder of the Congress was that it failed to see those shifts in the voter pattern. In those circumstances 20-25 percent Muslim voters would have been the surest and solid supporters of the party. But its blurred vision could not observe it. In the meanwhile came the Bangladesh movement and finally the emergence of the state from the ashes of the erstwhile East Pakistan. It was an extremely emotional situation for the West Bengal Muslims and the Urdu Press.

To say that Muslims were sentimentally pro-Pakistan as was the impression generally given by the media in the country would be oversimplification of a very complicated situation. Most of the Muslims in West Bengal, especially the Urdu speaking people in Calcutta and other towns, had their past relations in Bihar or eastern UP and people from these areas had migrated to East Pakistan, thus their past had partly expanded up to East Pakistan. They were naturally disturbed to see the same generation of their kins coming to grief and facing another holocaust. The feelings of Bengali Muslims would not have been less painful. They were receiving brickbats of jeers from all sides.

However, the Congress party was returned to power in 1971 elections sailing on the Bangladesh wave when Mrs Indira Gandhi was shown as an incarnation of Devi Durga in full fury but had to take recourse to emergency to retain power though short-lived. The Left Front in West Bengal wrested power in 1977 to which it still sticks. A mellowed Congress party in the state lost the confidence of the Muslim voter for which it must curse its betrayal to them and none else. The picture does not seem to be bright for the party in the forthcoming elections.
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