Why WB Muslims left the Left?

Kolkata: The Sachar Committee report, which exposed the real socio-economic and educational condition of Muslims in West Bengal, ignited the fire that is now set to burn down the 33-year-old regime of the Left Front. Other major factors why Muslims and other poor sections of the society left the Left during the last three years is the forced land acquisition drive by the state government for industrialization, say senior Muslim journalists in the state capital.

Why Muslims left the Left? “Sachar Committee Report is the answer,” says Abdur Rauf, assistant editor of Sakalbela daily. “Very analytically and with documents, the report has proved that throughout the three decades of Left regime in West Bengal, the Muslim community has been neglected - in the government service, social sector, development,” said Rauf. He further elaborates, “Earlier when we would present the real ground the Left government would refuse and brand us as communal. But Sachar is not Muslim. When he and his team presented the report they had no answer. Initially though they tried to reject the report but the facts were so real and down to earth that they were not successful. This report proves what kind of clandestine attitude they have had towards the minority here. Actually in the name of progress, no-communalism and in the name of no-division among the people, they were neglecting the minority community. And this is very much clear now to the community as the report has been discussed and propagated. Simply the community is not satisfied with the Left government.”

Parwez Hafeez, resident editor of Asian Age, says, “As Sachar report pointed out, Muslims here have remained backward educationally, economically and socially.”

Ahmed Hassan Imran, executive editor of Azad Hind Urdu daily, echoes Hafeez. “Thanks to Sachar Committee report, nationally and internationally people now know how Muslims in Bengal have fared in jobs and education. Before that report, the communist rulers of the state would say they were secular and did not discriminate between Hindus and Muslims but the Sachar report proved that Muslims were targeted for discrimination. During the Left Front rule, the fortune of the community has further diminished. As Sachar report pointed out, there are more than 1100 Muslim-dominated villages which have no primary school. Worse is the case of health and electricity in those areas. Their share in job is just 2.1 percent. Muslims were beaten by Left Front government with the stick of secularism.”

But it is not only Muslims but people in general are going away from the Left, says Hafeez. “It is not just the Muslim community, people in general are deserting the Left. There has been significant erosion in the CPI-M’s own vote bank in the last three years. That votebank comprises labourers, poor, farmers and marginalized sections of the society that include Muslims also. Both Hindus and Muslims have started deserting Left. Left is losing not only because Muslims are not voting for them but other communities too have gone away from them,” he explains.

Apart from Sachar report, Hafeez points out, there are two big factors that have led people to move away from the ruling Left regime. “Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s overzealous industrialization drive is one. It is true he went to poll in 2006 on this very issue and got huge majority - 235 seats out of 294. It’s an irony that he got huge mandate on industrialization drive then but five years later the same issue is going wrong for him. He thought he could do anything and when the opposition objected to his forced land acquisition drive and other coercive measures he would say we have 235 seats, you just 30. So how can they create any hurdle in my path? He wanted to bulldoze his way. That’s where the problem started. People of West Bengal are politically conscious. They turned away from Buddha. They saw he has gone away from the grains of Marxism. Communists are land givers but here they were land grabbers. CPI-M came to power on the slogan of “Birla, Tata ke dalal dur hato dur hato.” Ironically, when they started acquiring land for Tata in Singur, people started seeing them as Tata ke dalal.”

The other important factor which brought this scenario into reality, says Hafeez, is the decision of CPI-M central leadership decision to withdraw support from the UPA-1. “Had Prakash Karat not insisted (remember this was done by him alone) for withdrawal, the situation would have been different. Bengal CPI-M leadership including Jyoti Basu who was on deathbed had cautioned him. Karat had met him twice before he took the decision and he had cautioned him. This was the decision which dearly cost the CPI-M. Had they not withdrawn support, the Trinamool and Congress would not have joined hands. And had they not joined hands, the result of Lok Sabha election 2009 in West Bengal would not have been the same,” Hafeez says.

In all elections, from local body to Lok Sabha, in the last three years, the Left Front has lost to Trinamool Congress of Mamata Banerjee and Congress thanks to the huge shift of Muslim vote from the Left. Will the shifting continue in the ongoing Assembly poll? “More than 60% of Muslims today are supporting Trinamool-Congress alliance. I think the alliance will form the next government,” says Shahidul Islam, senior journalist now working for Aaj Kal daily. “I think the Left Front does not have the support of Muslims,” he says.

Parwez Hafeez adds that there is an anti-incumbency wave in the state. However, he points out the fact that in the Lok Sabha poll in 2009, Left Front got just 11 lakh votes less than the entire opposition parties - indicating the result may not be sweeping or landslide. Ahmed Hassan Imran avers: “Over some years Muslims have been in search of an alternative. Earlier the heavy Muslim-dominated areas like Murshidabad, Malda and Dinajpur were electing Congress, an alternative of the Left, now other parts of the state also want an alternative and we have seen that 90 percent of Muslims across the state have voted against the Left in the last three years.” People of West Bengal, not only Muslims, want change. They are not bothered about which party is coming to power. They just want to throw the Left first, adds Imran who also brings out Kalom, a Bengali weekly.

However, Abdur Rauf says the anti-incumbency wave, to an extent, has been checked by the ruling Left. “To some extent, I think,” says Abdur Rauf. “Actually this could have been a total shift but how much reliable is the Trinamool-Congress alliance has become a question in the minds of the community. In fact, there are many people in the party and the combine who in their attitude and past records are communal. What are the specific programs of the alliance is not very clear. If Trinamool chief is willing to implement the recommendations of Sachar and Ranganath commissions then why in Railways service sector she is not announcing a quota for minorities? She is not ready to give jobs to the minority. And this is being raised by the ruling Left Front also. It is six years when the Sachar report came but what are the programs of the central government to uplift the minority, this question is being raised by the Left,” says Rauf adding that the minority welfare measures announced by Left Front government in last 2 years will also help in checking the landslide. “Their propaganda machinery is strong. Their organization is much stronger than the opposition. So with some populist measures they will confuse a good number of Muslims,” says Rauf. He adds that Bengali Muslims never voted en bloc. “They do not carry the psyche and sentiments like the Urdu-speaking Muslims. In different districts, the voting pattern was different. When there was swing at some places there was no swing in favor of Left in Murshidabad. It went against the current. Bengali Muslims do not react homogeneously. They are more individualistic than a community-minded people. Yet it is true a good number of Muslims have voted against the Left in the last few elections. However, I think the shifting is not community decision rather individual.”

(Mumtaz Alam Falahi,, 16 April 2011)

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 May 2011 on page no. 9

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