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West Bengal and the expanding radical space

October 28, 2014 17:18 IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s offer of central assistance in arresting the downward slide in West Bengal and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval’s ongoing trip to the state and his asking for Mamata’s cooperation in handling the situation and in dissolving the anti-national and inter-country network of jihad that has now chosen her state as one of its base, is perhaps Mamata’s last best chance to salvage the situation, says Dr Anirban Ganguly.

When sometime in 1994, Marxist historian, the late Professor Amalendu De wrote an insightful monograph, Prasanga Anuprabesh (Essays on Infiltration) on the issue of infiltration in West Bengal and India from across Bangladesh, he was condemned both by the Communists and the Islamic radical groups in the state.

After a lifetime of commitment to the Communist movement in West Bengal, Professor De, just because he chose to write an independent minded analysis of the issue based on empirical evidence and data, was accused of evolving an argument over the effects of infiltration -- both short and long term -- which approximated to that of the Bharatiya Janata Party, or the ‘Hindu fundamentalist right wing groups’ who the Leftists contended were out to create trouble in this peaceful proletarian oasis. Professor De, the Islamists and the Leftists argued, was facilitating the mainstreaming of the BJP in West Bengal.

The book was suppressed with discussion on it being discouraged by the otherwise argumentative Marxists and the Left-Lib intelligentsia in Bengal. De had to make do with a small publisher and a subtle boycott from his erstwhile Communists friends and colleagues. Convenience of narrative and discourse construction and permission has always been a prerogative of Marxist intellectuals and any deviation from the prescribed framework has always been castigated as surrender to reactionary forces -- a sort of revisionism that had to be countered. Nevertheless, the book did generate a certain debate and drew the attention of at least a section of the intelligentsia to the challenges posed by increasing radicalism in the state.

Though Professor De could not entirely shake off his Marxian training in assessing the BJP, he did a remarkable job in examining the numerous dimensions of infiltrations and its impact on the politics, demographics and security of the state and the country.

In conclusion, he cautioned against being lax on the issue of infiltration and warned that if unchecked it would only allow the growth of pockets of fundamentalism along the Bengal border and eventually someday pose serious threats to our national security and external relations. The conclusion was strikingly prescient if one keeps in mind the current evolving situation in the state post the Burdwan blasts and its deep nexus between political and jihadi groups.

Having extensively interacted with Professor De, I found him consistent in his concern for the growing jihadi network in the state. He would often confide to me, while we worked together for a while in Kolkata, his apprehension of madrassas in the state, especially the unregistered ones, being used as centres for breeding radicalism in the region. Interestingly sometime in 2002, the then Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, who even today for the sake of political pyrotechnics continues to accuse the BJP of creating communal instability, had openly declared that the growing number of unregistered madrassas in the state posed a threat to national security and needed to be monitored and investigated.

Within 24 hours of that bold announcement, bold by standards of Communists politics, Bhattacharya, who also held the home portfolio, had to eat crow when his party’s leading apparatchik who controlled the state apparatus, the late Anil Biswas, publicly contradicted the chief minister and in private pressurised him into retracting his pronouncement. The opportunity to bring out the debate into the open was lost. The comrades, now, of course prefer to obfuscate that faux pas.

Interestingly also a month back, a leading Bangladeshi journalist-intellectual, on a visit to India had cautioned, in a number of private interactions, of the rapid radicalisation of West Bengal and of the involvement of the Jamaat-e-Islami in nurturing radical groups along the border with assistance from a section the Trinamool Congress leaders in the state. Ever since the expose of a TMC Rajya Sabha MP having extraneous links with groups inimical to India’s national interest and regional stability, the journalist had warned that West Bengal and the region was sitting on a powder keg.

The trend in the state, since Mamata Banerjee’s ascendancy, has been towards an expansion of the radical space. The last two years has witnessed a systematic emboldening of Islamic radical groups that have often taken to the streets of Kolkata and other district towns to make a point.

The Islamist congregation in the maidan in Kolkata in March 2012 in support of 1971 Bangladesh war criminals indicted by the war crimes tribunal, the open declaration of support for the beleaguered Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, the distribution in pockets along the West Bengal border of CDs and leaflets of sermons delivered by radical Bangladeshi clerics and Jamaat leaders such as Delawar Hossein Sayidee, the Burdwan blasts and the involvement of infiltrators from Bangladesh in it and the most recent public meeting by the Siddiqulla Chowdhury, leader of the Jamaat-e-Ulema Hind, in the heart of Burdwan town on October 20, where the central agencies were challenged to try and enter madrassas in Bengal, are trends that clearly indicated that the process of radicalisation is rapidly gaining ground in the state.

The way the March 2012 maidan meeting was facilitated and the manner in which Sidiqullah was given permission for the gathering and allowed his ranting against central agencies indicate that there exists a tacit support by West  Bengal’s ruling party, for the increasing volubility of these groups and for their unhampered consolidation.

Displaying an irrational disdain for national security, beholden to her minority vote-bank in the state, Mamata had initially tried to stall any attempt by the Centre to facilitate the Burdwan blasts case whose roots and links go deep beyond India’s boundaries. It took her a fortnight to hold a press conference on the blasts and the Centre’s offer of investigative intervention. Unlettered in the ideals of national interest and uninspired by the need to safeguard India’s national security, a section of the TMC leadership, it appears, especially after the findings of the unfolding Saradha Scam investigations, has got embroiled in an intricate and dangerous  game  and is now desperate to cover the tracks and to extricate themselves. The stepping in of the central agencies has clearly closed that option.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s offer of central assistance in arresting the downward slide in West Bengal and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval’s ongoing trip to the state and his asking for Mamata’s cooperation in handling the situation and in dissolving the anti-national and inter-country network of jihad that has now chosen her state as one of its base, is perhaps Mamata’s last best chance to salvage the situation. How best or how worst she responds will ultimately indicate the future of her politics.

Dr Anirban Ganguly is director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, New Delhi.

Dr Anirban Ganguly