A plague on all their houses
For all his bravado, Mr Idris Ali, who heads a little-known Muslim organisation that operates under the name of ‘All-India Minorities Forum’, panicked when he saw his followers run riot in those parts of central Kolkata where there’s dancing in the streets every time Pakistan wins a cricket match against India. Hence his sly attempt to distance himself from the rioters who set upon innocent people, torched cars and police vehicles, attacked school buses and held petrified children hostage in their schools till the Army was called in on Wednesday late afternoon.
“They (Marxist cadre) have infiltrated our ranks and sparked the violence. We wanted to protest peacefully, but the Marxists are trying to discredit us,” he told newspersons on Wednesday evening, obviously hoping to be spared the punishment that he justly deserves but is eager to escape. To paint himself and his murderous mobs as innocent victims of ‘state repression’, he claimed that “the disturbances broke out after the police, without reason, arrested 200 protesters owing allegiance to the AIMF and Furfurasharif Muzaddedia Anath Foundation at Park Circus”.
Without reason? Mr Ali’s foot soldiers were armed with swords and an assortment of weapons, including Molotov cocktails, which they used generously to terrorise people and attack the police. The high casualties reported by Kolkata Police — two Deputy Commissioners were among those grievously injured — and the widespread destruction of public and private property bear witness to the ferocity of those whom Mr Ali has sought to defend. But he is not alone in being indulgent; the anchor of a Delhi-based 24x7 news channel described the rampaging mobs as “civil society in ferment”. So much for media integrity.
The issue, however, is not Mr Ali’s too-clever-by-half defence of his criminal deed. Thankfully, the marauders were forced to back off before lives were lost; but the ‘peace’ that has been enforced with the help of the Army and night curfew is at best tenuous: Only the naïve and those who subscribe to Communist calumny will believe that Wednesday’s communal violence was an aberration and that Kolkata is back to being a ‘city of joy’. Nor should we get distracted by the suggestion that Kolkata’s Muslims are up in arms against the CPI(M)’s thuggery in Nandigram where many of the victims are their co-religionists.
Indeed, it is doubtful whether Mr Ali is truly concerned about the plight of the maimed, the raped and the homeless of Nandigram. Had this not been the case, he would have mobilised political opposition to the CPI(M)’s atrocities in Nandigram and elsewhere. After all, Mr Ali, apart from being the chief of All-India Minorities Forum, is also a Congress leader, or at least is known for being close to certain individuals in the party who have defended his action.
By seeking to convert Nandigram’s mind-numbing tale of human misery into a ‘Muslim issue’, he has tried to add to the list of the community’s imagined grievances. For, the CPI(M)’s ‘Harmad Vahini’ was, and remains, indiscriminate while letting loose its reign of terror in Nandigram. Among the thousands of villagers who have lost their near and dear ones, or have been forced to flee their home and hearth and take shelter in ‘refugee camps’, are a large number of Hindus. Two men whose names have become synonymous with pillage, murder and rape in Nandigram, and who led the CPI(M)’s bloody campaign, are Shahjahan Laskar and Selim Laskar.
The real objective of Mr Ali and his friends — Maulana Toha Siddiqui of Furfurasharif Muzaddedia Anath Foundation, Mr Roshan Ali of Qaumi Awaz Welfare Society and leading lights of Milli Ittehad Parishad — who organised Wednesday’s violent shutdown was to inflame Muslim passion by raising the bogey of Muslim sentiments being hurt by the Left Front Government. Hence the attempt to convert the atrocities in Nandigram into atrocities on Muslims; hence, also, the demand that the visa given to Bangladeshi dissident writer Taslima Nasreen, who has been living in Kolkata for the past couple of years, should be cancelled.
In fact, the second underscores the real purpose behind Wednesday’s violence: Of taking the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen’s shameful attack on Ms Nasreen in Hyderabad to its logical conclusion. Mr Ali and his friends allege that Ms Nasreen has “abused Islam and denigrated the Prophet”, and hence must not be provided with refuge from those who want to kill her, as ordained by Shari’ah, for ‘blasphemy’. If their reference is to Lajja, whose publication led to her first clash with Islamists, then it is rather late in the day. If they are referring to Dwikhondito, then we can only presume that neither Mr Ali nor his ilk has any regard for the law of the land which, they believe, does not apply to India’s Muslims.
Here we must digress to understand why the CPI(M) is as guilty as those who ran amok in Kolkata on Wednesday. Ms Nasreen’s autobiographical book, Dwikhondito, was banned by the West Bengal Government on November 28, 2003, soon after its publication. The initiative to proscribe the book because “it contains very derogatory and provocative references that go against the grain of the tenets of Islam and of Islamic beliefs” was taken by West Bengal’s ‘intellectual’ Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee at the behest of fellow travellers, many of them Bengali writers who take perverse pleasure in denigrating Hindus and Hinduism. One of them, Mr Sunil Gangopadhyay, has waxed eloquent in Thursday’s Anandabazar Patrika on how India is “not a theocracy and we cannot accept fatwas”. He did not display such tolerance while pushing for the ban on Dwikhondito.
The ban was declared illegal by the Calcutta High Court on September 22, 2005. Since then, Ms Nasreen has neither said nor written anything that can be considered, by any stretch of the imagination, ‘derogatory’ of Islam. Two years later, Mr Ali has raised the issue of Ms Nasreen and her controversial book, skilfully avoiding any reference to the court order, taking a cue from the MIM and using Nandigram as a cover.
This is calculated mischief — as calculated as the mass hysteria that was unleashed by bogus propaganda on the cartoons published in a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, allegedly lampooning Mohammed, or the equally bogus breast-beating over the execution of Iraq’s former dictator, Saddam Hussein. On those occasions, the CPI(M) was vocal in its support of the ‘Muslim cause’ and rallied its forces behind a convoluted worldview that has now come to haunt West Bengal.
Wednesday’s communal violence in Kolkata is only the beginning. Having sown the proverbial dragon’s teeth, the CPI(M) must now prepare to harvest its poison yield. The first signs of West Bengal’s Marxist Government cravenly giving in to Muslim violence are already visible. Even before calm was restored in the riot-hit areas of Kolkata, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and Left Front chairman Biman Bose sought to placate Mr Ali and his goons by offering to expel Ms Nasreen from West Bengal “to maintain peace”. On Thursday, Ms Nasreen was flown out of Kolkata to Jaipur. Her visa expires on February 17 next year. It is entirely possible that the Marxists will now force their obliging friends in the UPA Government to either not extend Ms Nasreen’s visa any further or cancel it right away.
But this is unlikely to serve any purpose in containing ‘Muslim anger’ and preventing incidents similar to what was witnessed on Wednesday. For, Mr Ali and his friends will come up with other grievances that have nothing to do with the genuine problems of India’s Muslims. Make no mistake of that.
November 23, 2007.
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