Fret not over ‘Muslim appeasement’

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been accused of appeasing Muslims at the cost of enraging the Hindus. Her “appeasement politics”, it is said, has helped the Bharatiya Janata Party to further its communal agenda in the state. The Hindu right does not like the “special treatment” given to Muslims, be it in holding off Durga Puja bisarjan (idol immersion) processions to make way for Muharram tazias or in appointing a Muslim to head a Hindu temple development board. An oft-repeated line one hears in social media corridors these days is, “Hindus are threatened in West Bengal.”

Really? How? Let’s find out.

A report carried by The Hindu on July 12 is headlined thus: Enrolment of Muslims in Bengal varsities abysmally low, says survey. Elite educational institutions such as Presidency University, Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, Visva-Bharati University and many others failed to enrol any Muslim student in 2015-2016, the survey conducted by the Ministry of Human Resource Development reveals. The percentage of Muslims in higher education institutions stands between 0 and 3 per cent in the state where Muslims make 27 per cent of the population. One of the main reasons for this is said to be the lack of education at the primary and secondary levels.

What use “appeasement”? How have the “appeased” gained from the “appeasing” when something as basic as education still remains elusive to them. Who should be angry over the “appeasement”, the Hindus or the Muslims? The Muslims; going by what Nazrul Islam, the retired firebrand Bengal police officer famous as an upright law-keeper during his entire career, wrote in his book, Musalmaander Ki Koroniyo (What Muslims Should Do). Here is an excerpt:

Brahmin-Baidya-Kayasthas [Hindu upper castes] do not want Muslim children to be educated under a modern system and compete for jobs with monthly salaries of 250,000 rupees. They want Muslims to concentrate more on reading namaz, performing roza and sending their children to the madrasas so that they produce more and more imams or madrasa employees, earn 2,000 to 3,000 rupees in salary and live unfed or half-fed. While, the children of the Brahmin-Baidya-Kayasthas become leaders and ministers, join services such as the I.A.S [Indian Administrative Service], I.F.S [Indian Foreign Service], I.P.S. [Indian Police Service] and I.R.S. [Indian Revenue Service] to become cabinet secretary, chief secretary, home secretary, D.G. [director general], C.P. [chief commissioner], D.M. [district magistrate] and S.P. [superintendent of police]. Then someday, we’ll all say: “Madrasas are breeding grounds of terrorists.” And then before the elections, we’ll give recognition to one or two madrasas, instead of opening schools, in the Muslim areas. And we’ll say: “They did not do anything for the Muslims in the past 34 years. We will do.” And after coming to power, without having done anything, within a few days, we will say: “We’ve accomplished 90 percent of the work. That has to be accepted.” Do the Muslims understand all this? That something needs to be done for them? We’ve punctuated our speeches with ‘Khuda-Hafiz-Inshallah’ at all the wrong places, we’ve been to the iftaar parties. We’ve posed for pictures with Haj-bound pilgrims. If all this is not enough, should we need, we have some people on hire; two or three bearded men. We will make them come in their [skull] caps to some function. We have designers to ensure appropriate clothing at such a function. And we will pull a cloth over our heads and say, ‘Khuda-Hafiz-Inshallah’. That will surely do it!

Ironically, the Hindu article is accompanied by a picture of Banerjee with a couple of Muslim women. Her head is covered by a scarf copying the style of the Muslim women (the “Muslim style”).

“Not just the Muslims,” Islam told me in an interview I did for the India Ink blog of The New York Times five years ago. “Many others including the low-caste Hindus and tribals have been prey to vote-bank politics. It is just that the case of Scheduled Castes and Tribes is a little better because they enjoy reservations in educational institutions and jobs.”

While Banerjee seems to love vote-bank politics, “appeasing” both Muslims and Hindus turn-wise, it is indeed a pity that anyone should feel that Hindus are threatened because of Banerjee’s appeasement politics. Yes, appeasement politics is dirty, and it must be criticised and opposed, but not because it makes the appeased a “threat”. The “appeasing” changes nothing for the “appeased” . In real terms, as The Hindu story proves, the appeased continue to remain in the margins like they have always done. Rather, appeasement methods, as Nurul Islam observed, only serve to further push the minorities into their ghettos. They seek to restrict Muslims to their immediate religious identities, never allowing them to assimilate into the mainstream dominated by Hindu upper castes.

All this makes a strong case to oppose appeasement and ask the government to talk real upliftment. Muslim persecution, which sadly seems to have suddenly become more appealing, can never be an answer to Muslim “appeasement”.