Tuesday, November 27, 2007

An inconvenient truth for secular CPM: Nandigram victims’ mainly Muslim face


Subrata Nagchoudhury

No issue, says CPM, but dominance of Muslims in Opp, relief camps prompts attack from Muslim voices
KOLKATA, NOVEMBER 19: The first fallout of what has happened at Nandigram is that it weakens our case in Gujarat. The CPM, which always speaks of high ideals, is indulging in such shameful acts of violence. This is not an issue that concerns Muslims only. It’s a national issue: Kamal Faruqui, permanent member, All India Muslim Personal Law Board
The only good thing with regard to Muslims is that in the last 30 years of Left rule in West Bengal, they were safe. What happened in Nandigram now puts question mark on that, too: Manzoor Alam, general secretary, All India Milli Council

This is, perhaps, the worst-kept secret of the Nandigram violence that’s now being talked about openly. And is reason for embarrassment to the CPM which swears by its secular credentials: a majority of those targeted by its party cadres as they reclaim their turf are Muslim.

Certainly, the violence is political, not communal — the protests were over proposed land acquisition and a turf war, not any religious issue — but the demographics of Nandigram and the nature of opposition to the CPM have ensured that wherever you go, in relief camp after relief camp, most of the refugees are Muslim.

Local administration officials admit that at least 65% of those huddled in the largest relief camp at the Brojomohan Tiari Institute are Muslim. So is the victim of the first gangrape case officially registered and eight of those who have been killed so far.

Then there is the reference the National Human Rights Commission has made to Gujarat in its indictment of the state government. And, ironically, the CPM, at pains to draw a distinction between Gujarat and Nandigram to argue against a debate in Parliament, has ended up reinforcing this aspect.

Ask CPM MP Mohammed Salim and he says this is a mere coincidence. “Those who are trying to draw the Gujarat-Nandigram parallel are trying to undermine the seriousness of the Gujarat riots. If a particular area has 46% Muslim population it is natural that they will also be affected.”

When contacted, Abdus Sattar, Minister of State for Minorities Welfare and Development and Madrassa Education, says: “A large number of Muslims might have been affected but what happened in Nandigram was not on the basis of religion. The Chief Minister is the minister for minorities, I have no other comment to make.”

What both the MP and the Minister do not admit is that sections in the party are concerned over a possible backlash given how a majority of the victims in Nandigram are Muslim.

Consider the following:

In areas where the Government proposed land acquisition for the chemical SEZ, almost 65% of the population is Muslim, largely the middle peasantry and sharecroppers. Says Siddiqullah Chowdhury of Jamiat-e-Ulema-Hind which became the backbone of the political opposition: “We could mobilise Muslims because they are the ones most dependent on land for livelihood. Most of them are unrecorded sharecroppers haunted by the fear that they might not get any compensation for not possessing any valid documents. In the core area of the proposed SEZ, a large number of Muslims owned small shops and were engaged in tailoring and zari work.”

So it’s no surprise that the top rung of the Bhoomi Uchched Pratirodh Committee (Save Land Committee) — the umbrella group that began the agitation against the CPM — is Muslim: the chief is Abu Sufiyan, a former CPM panchayat leader who the party claims was expelled because of alleged financial irregularities. Sufiyan. however claims, he fell out of favour because he “refused to carry out illegal orders.”

Working president of the BUPC is Abdus Samad who owes his allegiance to the Congress. Helping Sufiyan and Samad are Abu Taher of the Trinamool Congress, Ashrafultullah who is the Treasurer and executive committee member Sayum Kazi.

Muslims make up a significant section of the villages in Nandigram’s Block 1 — the core of the agitation — which include Muhammadpur, Kendamarichar, Jalpai, Samsabad, Daudpur, Kalicharanpur, Garchakrebaria and Satengabad-Ranichawk.

Admits Block Development Officer Ashok Sarkar: “In most of these villages, a large number of houses damaged belong to Muslims. They were from both sides but obviously those under the BPUC banner have suffered more.” One estimate, according to Samad, is that in the latest cycle of violence, 500 houses belonging to Muslims have either been burnt or damaged.

While the CPM may see in these facts nothing more than mere coincidence, several powerful, influential voices from the Muslim community — and the Opposition — are now speaking up.

Says pro-CPM Salman Kurshid, secretary, Muslim Institute, a highly respected organisation of Muslim intellectuals: “Muslims in the state are thoroughly frustrated at what happened in Nandigram. The High Court has also called it (the March 14 firing) unconstitutional. It was just like in Gujarat where Narendra Modi gave his men three days to wrap up their operation. In Nandigram, CPM cadres were let loose from November 6 to 9 when the administration collapsed. The Muslims in the state have been talking that there is no difference between BJP and the so called progressive Marxists.”

Said the Akhbar-e-Mashriq, the largest Urdu newspaper in Kolkata: “Believers of Marxist philosophy have never accepted democracy by heart. For remaining in power they can resort to any cruelty and oppression and term those as legally valid. Both the BJP and the CPM intend to make common people mental slaves to attain their goal...For God’s sake, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, let the (CRPF) jawans do their work, and issue instructions to the CPI(M) cadres top return to their barracks.”

The respected Azad Hind also wrote on November 15: “In this tense and dirty ambience, at present, everybody should stay cautious because power’s toxicity can put any one on the wrong path. Specially, Muslim organisations and the Muslim people need to take steps keeping in mind the prevailing situation.” (with Md Safi Samshi, Kolkata, and Jayanth Jacob, New Delhi)