All par­ties are alike

Mur­shid­abad’s Mus­lims want jobs, not rhetoric

India Today - - COVER STORY - by Malini Ban­er­jee Fol­low the writer on Twit­ter @Start­ing­to­blue

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

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