The number of Muslims is slightly higher than that of Hindus in Malda, which has always been a congressional haunt, in large part because of the late Ghani Khan Choudhary.
It had been five years since construction of the mosque began. But Rupam Tiwary, 45, couldn’t warm to the idea. “There is a Kali mandir, a Durga mandir and a Shiv mandir nearby,” he said. “How could we let a mosque go up there?”
Tiwary has been a BJP worker in the village of Raipada in the Malda district of West Bengal since he was a teenager. But his moment of glory came about three years ago when he took part in a movement to prevent a mosque from coming near his village. “We cover the idols in the temple when Muslims perform their procession during Muharram,” he says. “We don’t like them dancing in front of our gods. In addition, there are only two Muslim families living in the area. Why do you need a mosque for two families? “
Tiwary mobilized BJP and RSS workers in Malda and launched a campaign to abandon construction of the mosque, which was being built slowly and steadily. “We got 3,500 signatures on a petition,” he says. “We wrote to the administration, as well as to the police. We took to the streets. We waved until they finally moved in 2018. The mosque was funded by Arab money. We don’t want Bengal to become Pakistan. “
The half-built structure still stands just outside the village of Raipada. Deserted, desperate and abandoned, where people sneak around at night to smoke weed. It is symbolic of the communalization observed in West Bengal, and in particular in Malda, over the past five years or so.
Raipada is part of the assembly constituency of Baishnabnagar – one of only three the BJP managed to win in the 2016 state election, where 294 seats were up for grabs. The constituency is made up of an almost equal number of Hindus and Muslims. One of the reasons for the BJP’s victory in Baishnabnagar was a riot that took place just before the 2016 elections. “The Kaliachak police station was attacked by anti-social elements,” said Subhro Maitra, senior journalist based. in Malda. “But the BJP gave that a common color. Baishnabnagar constituency borders the area that saw the incident. They used it to polarize the electorate and get Hindu votes. “
BJP and RSS cadres consolidated themselves on the 2016 victory at Baishnabnagar and have continued their agenda since then. Bijaykumar Basak, 46, resident of Raipada, who trained in Nagpur at the headquarters of RSS in 2019 where they taught him self-defense, said: “We have to save India from the traitors. We are not saying that all Muslims are bad. But we must be vigilant against some. “
The ideology has crept in worryingly among the electorate. Priyanka Mondol, 16, driving bidis to live in Raipada, says the government and state administration are biased towards Muslims, while neglecting Hindus. “During the lockdown, they deposited between 500 and 1,000 rupees in the bank accounts of Muslims,” she said. “But the Hindus did not understand it. In the past year, we’ve only had gasoline twice while Muslims have had it three or four times.
The venom spat at Baishnabnagar is now seen through Malda during the ongoing Assembly elections in West Bengal. Two teachers, teaching at a school about 40 kilometers from Baishnabnagar, bemoan the fact that they cannot do Durga puja in their schools. “We have stopped namaaz too, ”said one of them. “But we are fighting so that Durga puja back to school. The school has a majority of Hindu students. “
The BJP leadership in Malda, however, speaks a different language. BJP district chairperson Gobinda Chandra Mandal says there are mainly two or three problems in Malda. “The embankment around the Ganga River keeps collapsing, flooding farmland and homes,” he says. “This is causing serious losses to farmers. It made thousands of people homeless. They need to be rehabilitated. Besides, Malda is known for its mangoes but there is no factory here. So mango farmers end up selling their stock at a lower price. “
Asked about community polarization on the ground, he said: “The other parties accuse us of reducing the elections to Hindus-Muslims. But this is a lie. Mamata Banerjee is appeasing a particular community. “
UK Time News consolidation behind the BJP, unsurprisingly, worries Muslims. Hussain Shaikh, 58, a construction contractor from Kaliachak, says elections were reduced between Hindus and Muslims, while completely ignoring issues of governance, education, livelihoods and health. “I’ve lived here my whole life,” he says. “The neighborhood has never been so polarized or tense. We stayed with our Hindu neighbors. They ate with us. I don’t think we will find those days again now.
Being a Muslim, Shaikh says he feels safe in Kaliachak because it is a predominantly Muslim region. “But I’m nervous about entering any part of Malda where Hindus outnumber Muslims,” he concedes.
Malda was the center of Bengal a few centuries ago. Much has changed since then. According to the 2004 state government report, Malda’s literacy rate of 50.71 percent was the worst in all districts of West Bengal. The district health and education indices were also the lowest of any district in the state. It is also one of the epicenters of emigration to West Bengal, as there are hardly any job opportunities here. Yet the speech during the election is largely focused on religious polarization.
WhatsApp messages from Muslims smuggling children across the border, or how they are engaged in “jihad in love” as well as “jihad on land,” often do the rounds here. “Muslims from Bangladesh come here illegally and settle down,” Tiwary says. “The TMC allows them to stay where they are. It is earthly jihad. “
Malda district shares its border with Bangladesh, which is often blamed by BJP leaders for sending “infiltrators” into the state. The defense of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Citizens Register (NRC) across the country, which critics say discriminates against Indian Muslims, is not lost on Muslims in Malda.
Sumala Agarwala, spokesperson for TMC in Malda, says Muslims are nervous about the application of CAA and NRC, which is one of the reasons the TMC is doing well in the district where it is. historically has not been strong. “Muslims fear being sent to Bangladesh if CAA and NRC are applied in West Bengal,” she said. “And they know Mamata is the only person who can resist it in the state.”
The number of Muslims is slightly higher than that of Hindus in Malda, which has always been a congressional haunt, in large part because of the late Ghani Khan Choudhary – former minister in the state government. He became MP for Malda in 1980, then represented the constituency for eight consecutive terms. Her family is still one of the most influential families in the neighborhood. By 2016, Congress won eight of the 12 Assembly constituencies in Malda.
This time around, however, Congress would find it extremely difficult to retain those constituencies. Asim Akram, 26, a tea seller in Shujapur, says he will vote for the TMC because Congress cannot have its chief minister in the state. “It’s a critical election,” he said.
“Politics shouldn’t be about religion. And I want to vote for a party that can form the state government. “
Kali Sadhan Roy, congressional district vice president, admits the party has a challenge in Malda. “The minority vote is our main base of support. This time the minorities are uncertain because they are nervous about CAA and NRC, ”he said. “They feel that Congress is unable to form the government, therefore, it is better to vote for the TMC, since only Mamata can resist the BJP while implementing CAA or NRC. But eventually, voters will come to vote for Congress because no matter what, TMC MPs can jump to the BJP. Our deputies will not defect. “
However, the split vote between Congress and the TMC is visible on the ground, giving the BJP a definite advantage. In the 2019 general election, Congress and the BJP won one seat each falling in the district. However, while the BJP won North Malda by over 80,000 votes, Congress won South Malda by only around 8,000 votes, with the BJP in second place. The numbers clearly indicate the significant strides the BJP has made in Malda since it won a lone assembly seat in 2016.
However, the trend towards community polarization is not limited to Malda. According to Interior Ministry figures released in 2018, incidents of communal violence increased sharply in West Bengal after 2016. The state, which recorded 27 cases in 2015 killing five people, had 58 such incidents in 2017, killing nine people.
Ettaj Ali, 70, living next to the half-built mosque outside Raipada, says that no matter who comes to power, his only wish is to live in peace. “I am not bitter that the mosque was not allowed to go up,” he said. “I can pray in the field, at home, or wherever I want. It is better not to have a mosque than to have arguments. “
However, this language hardly cuts the ice among the brainwashed Hindus here. A 23-year-old shopkeeper right in front of Ali’s house said it was the right call to stop construction of the mosque. “It’s a Hindu country,” he says, while showing the birthday cards in his shop. “I also keep wedding supplies. But I don’t have it yet.
“Why?” I ask him.
He looks surprised. “This is the month when Muslims get married,” he said. “Hindus are getting married from next month. If you don’t know, you are not a Hindu.