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National Convention for upliftment of the Muslims
By Mohammad Ashfaque, Calcutta

With elections to the State Assembly in West Bengal (due to be held in the first half of 2001) coming closer, the importance of Muslim votes is being strongly felt by the political parties in the state. Leaders of political parties are trying to woo Muslim Voters. Muslims who constitute about a quarter of the population in West Bengal have become important factors in West Bengal politics. So far Muslim Votes in West Bengal were more or less evenly divided between the Congress and the Left Front. When Mamata Banerjee left the Congress and formed Trinamool Congress (TMC), the response from the Muslim Voters towards her was lukewarm. Muslims did not support her stand on the BJP. Her alliance with the BJP and participation in the National Democratic Alliance coalition government at the Centre had an adverse effect on Muslim Votes as the Muslims of West Bengal refused to support any political party which has direct or indirect alliance with the BJP. Mamata Banerjee has often admitted in public that she was not getting support from the Muslims of West Bengal. To achieve her goal of dislodging the CPI(M) led Left Front Government in the State, Mamata Banerjee desperately needs Muslim Votes. Muslim Votes are equally important for the Left Front and the Congress.

During the past two years, the leaders of Sangh Parivar and its frontal organizations like RSS, VHP etc have fully exploited BJP's alliance with the Trinamool Congress (TMC) to make serious inroads in West Bengal. There has been a proliferation of RSS Shakhas and VHP units in the rural and urban areas of the State. BJP has gained and improved its position in the recent elections to Calcutta Municipal Corporation, Municipalities in the urban areas of the Districts, State Assembly and Lok Sabha. The two BJP M.Ps elected to Lok Sabha from West Bengal with the support of Trinamool Congress (TMC) have been accommodated in the NDA Government at the Centre. Serious attempts are also being made by the BJP to consolidate its position in the State primarily to further increase its tally in the ensuing elections. The call of the BJP President Bangaru Laxman inviting Muslims to join BJP has not cut much ice with the Muslims in West Bengal. Instead, many Muslims who had joined the BJP are fast beginning to leave the Party . 

The growing popularity of BJP and the refusal of the Muslim voters to accept any direct or indirect alliance with the saffron brigade appear to have put Mamata Banerjee in a dilemma. She appears to be in the midst of a 'horned syllogism'. There has been rumours of Mamata Banerjee resigning from the NDA and disassociating herself from the BJP so that she may win over the confidence of Muslim voters. Such rumours have often originated from her own camp or from persons who are known to be close to her. Such rumors have, however, been promptly denied by Mamata Banerjee, who has made it very clear on several occasions that there is no question of her leaving the National Democratic Alliance led by BJP. At the same time she has been trying to perform a balancing feat, attempting to walk on a tight rope, trying to win over support of the Muslims while maintaining her alliance with the BJP at the same time. Indian National Congress, which has some base among the Muslims in West Bengal and had been getting the anti Left Muslim Votes has categorically overruled any possibility of the party having any alliance with the TMC, if Mamata Banerjee continues to have electoral entente with the BJP. The Congress High Command has been insisting on Mamata to sever her ties with the BJP-led NDA before negotiating any alliance or adjustment with the Congress in West Bengal. This is not acceptable to Mamata Banerjee as she knows that by now BJP has become strong enough to create problems for her in West Bengal should she wish to break her alliance with them. The stand taken by the Congress leaders has shattered Mamata Banerjee's hopes of forming a 'Mahajot' consisting of Trinamool Congress, Congress and BJP to prevent split of anti Left Votes in West Bengal. Miss Banerjee has however not lost hopes and she is still trying to pressurize Congress leaders by encouraging defection of Congress leaders to TMC. During the past few months several Muslim Councillors of Calcutta Municipal Corporation, who were elected as Congress nominees have switched over to TMC. Earlier the Trinamool Congress had won a Rajya Sabha seat from West Bengal due to cross voting by the Congress MLAs, who had defied the directives of the Congress High Command and caused the defeat of the Congress nominee in the Rajya Sabha elections.

Sultan Ahmed, a former general secretary of West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee and President of West Bengal Pradesh Qaumi Tanzeem has also left Congress in August 2000 and joined Ms. Banerjee's Trinamool Congress with his close associates. Ahmed was among the front rank leaders of Congress in West Bengal. He was the General Secretary of All India Youth Congress in 1975. Elected as a Congress Councillor of Calcutta Corporation in 1985, he was the Chairman of the Burrough Committee of Calcutta Corporation. He was elected as a Member of West Bengal Legislative Assembly from Entally Assembly Constituency in Calcutta twice, first in 1987 and then again in 1996. Defection of Sultan Ahmed from the Congress to Trinamool Congress has raised hopes in the TMC that the former would be able to garner the much needed Muslim Votes for the TMC in the ensuing elections. They feel that Sultan Ahmed will succeed in persuading the Muslims of West Bengal to shun their allergy towards the BJP, ignore the party's links with the RSS and VHP and agree to support Mamata Banerjee's TMC even if she remains allied with the BJP at the Centre.

The National Convention for Upliftment of the Muslims organized by Sultan Ahmed under the banner of West Bengal Pradesh Qaumi Tanzeem at Netaji Indoor Stadium in Calcutta on the 14th November 2000 served as a platform for Mamata Banerjee. The Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, New Delhi had refused to accept the invitation to the Convention . Though the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister. Chandrababu Naidu and the Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah too were expected to attend, they did not ultimately come to attend the Convention. Mamata Banerjee and other leaders of Trinamool Congress were prominent among those who addressed the Convention. Laljan Basha ( Telegu Desam) a former Member of Lok Sabha from Andhra Pradesh, attended the Convention 

Justifying her ties with the BJP Miss Mamata Banerjee asserted in the Convention that "the BJP Government under Atalji is looking after the interests of the Muslims and so we are supporting the BJP. We will cut our ties with the Party the moment it works against the interests of the Muslims." Mamata Banerjee declared in the Convention that her Party (TMC) will not sever its ties with the BJP so long as BJP protects the interest of Muslims. Supporting the demands for reservation for Muslims, Miss Mamata Banerjee promised that in her Party's election manifesto for 2001 Assembly Polls, TMC will pledge quota providing for reservation for Muslims. Subrata Mukherjee, a Trinamool leader and Mayor of Calcutta Municipal Corporation even went to the extent of pledging that " 50 % of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation jobs would henceforth be reserved for Muslims." Mukherjee further announced that apart from English and Bengali the name of Calcutta Municipal Corporation will also be written in Urdu.

During 1972-77 Mukherjee was the Minister of State in charge of Local Self Government and Fire Services and had absolute control over appointments to jobs under the Calcutta Corporation as it had no elected body then. During this period Muslims had received less than 2 % of the employment opportunities in Calcutta Corporation and West Bengal Fire Services. Mukherjee was blamed and held responsible for such bias against the Muslims. Muslims account for 24% of the total population of West Bengal and about 10% of the total population of Calcutta. They have been promised by the Mayor of CMC 50% reservation in Jobs in Calcutta Municipal Corporation. Mukherjee's pledge of providing 50% reservation for Muslims in the jobs in CMC has, therefore, caused lot of confusion and surprise.

Several resolutions were passed in the Convention. The main thrust of the resolutions was on demands relating to (i) reservation for Muslims in recruitment to the State services and admissions in educational institutions under Articles 15 (4) and 16 (4) of the Constitution of India (ii) impartial inquiry by the CBI or any other competent authority on the Wakf scams involving misappropriation of Wakfs in West Bengal (iii) assistance to the Madrasas in West Bengal for appointment of qualified teachers for teaching Science, Mathematics, Social Studies, Hindi and English under the scheme for modernization of Madrasa education and recognition of Schools and Madrasas as Minority institutions established by the Muslim community.

Apart from Mamata Banerjee, many other senior leaders of Trinamool Congress such as Sudip Bandopadhyay M.P. and Mukherjee attended the Convention, but they did not deem it fit to even refer to the resolution moved and passed in the Convention urging upon the Government at the centre to stand by the people of Palestine, condemn the atrocities of the Israelis and to take up the cause of Palestine in the world forum. These leaders of the National Democratic Alliance were also conspicuously silent on the resolution demanding appropriate measures to protect the people of Kashmir from atrocities and urging upon the Government to grant economic assistance to the Kashmiris for their social and economic upliftment.

Referring to Mamata Banerjee's speech in the above Convention, Anil Biswas, the State Secretary of C.P.I (M) has alleged that Mamata Banerjee was making false promises to the Muslims and playing the communal card for electoral gains. Nandagopal Bhattacharya , Member of CPI National Executive and State Minister for Water resources has described Mamata's rhetoric as nothing but election gimmick.

Former Chief Minister of West Bengal Jyoti Basu has observed that it seems that there is no morality left in politicians. They would promise anything to garner some Votes. Commenting on the deliberations in the above Convention, Basu observed " Muslims are no fools. Mamata can't fool Muslims" He lamented that NDA was doing everything to divide people on religious lines. 

The Convention was well attended due to the untiring efforts made by Ahmed and the active support he received from the leaders of Trinamool Congress. Political analysts will however be watching with keen interest the outcome and impact of this Convention on Muslims of West Bengal. The good turnout at the Convention has encouraged Ahmed to claim that Muslims of West Bengal will vote for the Trinamool Congress as the Muslims have several reasons to be aggrieved with the Left Front Government, which has remained in power since June 1977, but to what extent this Convention will actually help the Trinamool Congress in capturing Muslim votes in the coming elections is a multi million dollar question.

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