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Basu: 'Comrade, you have made a mistake; you should admit it.'
Bengal CM bites dust
By MG correspondent

Kolkata: Bowing to the pressure of all social, religious and political parties, West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattachrjee has made an about-turn on his earlier outpourings against madrasas. Now he says that he was misquoted on madrasa controversy even by his own party organ Ganashakti. The chief minister denied his own words when he said on 3 February that his government had never received reports that the madrasas were involved in anti-national activities. 'In recent times we have made several arrests of people suspected of being involved in the Khadim chief abduction case and the terrorist attack near the American Centre. Not one of them is even remotely connected with madrasas,' he added. He also said in the same breath: 'Fundamentalist elements are active not only among Muslims. They are active among both Hindus and Muslims. But a majority of Hindus and Muslims are patriots. This is my belief as well as my ideology.'

Madrasas in the state had come under intense criticism from chief minister following attack on the police picket outside the American Centre in Calcutta on 22 January. The chief minister criticized the madrasas of hobnobbing with Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan and other anti-national elements. He also announced in Siliguri that unrecognized madrasas will be closed down by the government very soon. The chief minister also asked the police to survey the madrasas in Murshidabad district in the state and furnish all information regarding the strength of students there, their addresses and their sources of income. Another senior Communist Party of India (CPI-M) leader Anil Biswas followed him in criticism of madrasas. He asked his party leaders, ministers and party cadres to keep a close watch on madrasas. He went ahead and said that he feared that these madrasas can join hands with Naxalites and other separatist forces. There are 507 recognized madrasas in the state besides hundreds of non-recognized ones. 

Attacks on madrasas and negative comments about them by the chief minister and his party men did not go down well and received widespread criticism from all corners. Jamiatul Ulama-e-Hind organized a huge rally on 4 February in Kolkata warning the government of dire consequences if it went ahead with its 'clean up' programme. Thousands of Muslims attended the rally against Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's comments maligning the madrasas and the community. The Jamiat also threatened to launch a statewide movement if he failed to review his stand.

Several Muslim organizations have come out in the open to denounce Bhattacharjee's highly inflammable comments. Zaheeruddin Khan, general secretary of the All India Anti-terrorist Forum said, 'It is a blatant attempt to malign the community'. Noore Khuda, an office-bearer of the Madrasa Teachers' Association, said that 'People who go to these madrasas are from the lowest strata of the society. After their education, they do petty jobs like teaching in religious schools and working as mosque imams or the like. They are simple people. I don't believe they are terrorists.' West Bengal Madrasa Board president, Abdus Sattar, said, 'People have misconceptions about madrasas. 

They don't know that madrasas are secular educational institutions which have even Hindu teachers and Hindu students'. Jamaat-e-Islami Hind has also condemned the CM's statement calling it unwarranted and out of context. A letter from JIH addressed to the CPI(M) general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet made scathing attack on the party stand and the CM and said that 'it was perceived earlier that such misplaced and aggressive campaigns against Muslims and their institutions are directed only by the Sangh Parivar. But now it seems your party too has started giving the same signals.'

Mamata Banerjee, the firebrand Trinamul Congress leader, has called the CM's criticism of madrasas as an anti-Muslim drive. 

But the most scathing attack against the chief minister came from none other than his own party cadres when they realized the big mistake their chief minister made. Former chief minister Jyoti Basu admonished his successor Buddhdeb Bhattachrjee for his remarks against madrasas. At the Left Front meeting held in Kolkata on 6 February, Basu advised the CM to admit that he had made a mistake by making such a remark. Basu reportedly told him curtly, 'You have made a mistake. You should admit it.'

When Buddhadeb tried to justify his remarks, CPIM organ Ganashakti, CPI state secretary Manju Majumdar, reportedly asked him, 'What prevented you from correcting the mistake? Why it took you so long to find out that you were wrongly quoted by the media?' 

While the CM fumbled, CPM state secretary Anil Biswas and LF chairman Biman Bose admitted that it had been indeed a grave mistake. 'The controversy was allowed to snowball and should have been nipped in the bud', they said.

The LF also decided that Ganashakti would immediately carry a correction and the CM would give an interview to the newspaper explaining that he had nothing against madrasas. No madrasa was involved in the terrorist activities, he would say in the interview.

Meanwhile Bhattacharjee has instructed the police in West Bengal not to harass innocent Muslims!

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