All parties are alike
Murshidabad’s Muslims want jobs, not rhetoric
Murshidabad, seat of power of the nawabs of Bengal but better known in the present day as President Pranab Mukherjee’s own backyard, is a bustling district with a population of seven million, more than 70 per cent of which is Muslim.
Despite the strength of numbers, however, Muslim angst and disenchantment at being hyphenated with the mainstream has started sprouting here in recent years. “I feel like a secondclass citizen in my own country. I see the looks I get from others when I step on a train. I can sense their wariness. Am I to be treated differently just because I sport a beard?” asks Sariful Islam, a 53-year-old businessman from Kapashdanga village.
Chameli Sarkar, now a 32-year-old doctor in Domkal, says when she was studying at Burdwan Medical College and had to look for a new place to stay in, every mess, every girl’s hostel turned her down because she was Muslim. “Finally my friend suggested that I should pretend to be a Hindu,” she says. “It is a reality I have learned to live with.”
A Congress stronghold, two of the three sitting MPs from Murshidabad district—Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury (Berhampore) and Pranab Mukherjee’s son Abhijit (Jangipur)—are Hindus. It’s a fact that the third MP, Abdul Mannan Hossain (Murshidabad), takes great pride in. “The community one belongs to is not important for the people of Murshidabad,” he says.
The district Congress leadership has started to emphasise, at every opportunity it gets, the “divisive” nature of BJP and particularly its prime ministe- rial candidate Narendra Modi. Golam Mohammed Akberi, a 51-year-old businessman and block president of the Congress in Kapashdanga, likens BJP to the Muslim League. “Both are alike in many respects. Their sole purpose is to promote their own community.”
The message, that voting for BJP would be tantamount to betraying the community, is not lost on the area’s Muslims. But while the fear of BJP, and how it might affect their business interests, troubles the Muslim community here, it doesn’t automatically translate into a falling-over-each-other to vote for the Congress. The general sense of disillusionment with the Central government is quite evident even in this Congress citadel. “In many ways, the Congress is as bad as BJP. At least BJP makes its antipathy towards Muslims clear. The inaction of then prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao when the Babri Masjid was being demolished was far worse,” says Islam.
Stories of Muslims getting a fair share of the development pie in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat have wound their way to interior Bengal, causing more heartburn among their counterparts here. “We hear that a larger percentage of Muslims have jobs in Gujarat than in Bengal, even though our numbers are higher here,” says Mohammed Amir Sohel, a 22-year-old BCA graduate who is hoping to secure a teaching job. This will be Sohel’s first General Elections but he voices little optimism. “A lot was promised to us but not much was delivered. Our Chief Minister (Mamata Banerjee of Trinamool Congress) came to power on the promise of jobs. But where are the jobs?” he asks.
“With 70 per cent Muslims in the district, why are there are so few Muslims in government jobs?” SARIFUL ISLAM Businessman