Lok Sabha elections: Mood of Muslims in Malda and Murshidabad

By Mumtaz Alam Falahi, TwoCircles.net

TCN Series: Visit to Malda and Murshidabad: Part 1

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Hundreds of thousands of them are half-fed. Many hundreds border starvation. But when it comes to politics it seems it runs in their blood. In villages after villages in Murshidabad and Malda – two of India’s heavily Muslim populated districts – you will hardly find a home without a symbol of one party or the other: generally Congress or CPM. Despite the fact that neither did enough to improve their lot over the decades.

Over the years Muslims in these two districts have supported the Congress particularly in General Elections. This time too, majority seem to have made up their mind to go the same way. The two districts together will send five MPs to the Lok Sabha.

Mood in Murshidabad

Ghulam Kibriya Sarkar, mechanical engineer who teaches at a polytechnic in Murshidabad, says: Earlier people would support communist but few years back situation changed. Now people are supporting Congress particularly in Lok Sabha elections but in the assembly elections CPM still holds the ground.

“It is difficult to say about the mood of public today but Congress MPs particularly Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee who represents Jangipur LS constituency in the district, has done good work in his area. Congress is expected to win again,” says Abbas Ali, Imam, Raza Miyan Judge Court Masjid in Behrampur, Murshidabad.

There are three LS constituencies in Murshidabad, all represented by the Congress: Jangipur (Pranab Mukherjee), Murshidabad (Mannan Hussain) and Behrampur (Adhir Chaudhry).

Regarding mood of Muslims Syed Noore Khuda, Murshidabad Secretary, Madrasa Teachers’ Association, is not very categorical. “Public is divided. They are motivated by party cadres and commanders. The party whose cadres are strong will get more votes.” He, however, agrees the Congress has upper hand.

“The UPA government led by Manmohan Singh has seriously worked on some programs for the Muslim community,” says Noore Khuda and adds: “But the implementation is very slow.” He also gives the reason. “This is because the government in the state is of the Left Front. Of late, however, the Left government has also done some work for the community.”

Why despite remaining backward Muslims have supported Congress here in the district over the time? “This is because Muslims want to keep BJP out of power in the centre. Muslims are scared of BJP for its policies and hatred towards the community,” says Noore Khuda.

Dr. Mujeebur Rahman

Rather than talking about his choice, Dr Mujeebur Rahman, ex-Principal, Ziaganj College, Murshidabad, raises a different but very important issue. According to Census 2001, Muslims constitute 63.67% of the population of the district. The post of the speaker of Zilla Parishad is reserved for SC. While all three Lok Sabha areas are dominated by Muslims, major political parties field non-Muslim candidates in two of them. Most importantly, some assembly constituencies, dominated by Muslims, are reserved for SCs.

“While three constituencies in Murshidabad are highly Muslim dominated, major parties field non-Muslim candidates. In Jangipur and Behrampur current MPs are Pranab Mukherjee and Adhir Chaudhry respectively. While Murshidabad district has more than 60% Muslims the post of speaker of Zilla Parishad has been kept reserved for SC. Besides, two assembly constituencies Khargram and Sagardighi are dominated by Muslims but reserved for SCs. This has been mentioned in the Sachar Committee report also,” says Mujeebur Rahman adding there should be an urge from government and public that Muslim dominated areas should not be reserved for SC or ST.

In fact there are 10 assembly seats in West Bengal, according to the Sachar Committee report, where Muslims are more than SCs in number, yet the seats have been reserved for the SCs. See Appendix Table 2.2: State Assembly Electoral Constituency / Tahsil, Reserved for Scheduled Castes with relative share of Muslim Population (page 291).

“But Muslims are not aware of that. Nor are they much sensitive about the erosion caused by the Rivers Padma and Ganga. People living in border areas mostly Muslims are worst affected. But no government Congress or Left has done much on this front,” says Dr Mujeebur Rahman.

Malda matter

Until last Lok Sabha election in the district, Malda was fiefdom of late ABA Ghani Khan Chaudhry. He was several time Congress MP from the seat. In the election held after his death his brother Abu Hashim took the mantle. He seems set to retain the seat that is now South Malda. After the delimitation a new Lok Sabha seat by the name of North Malda has been created. From this seat Ghani Khan Chaudhry’s neice and sitting Congress MLA Mausam Noor is in the fray for LS debut.

Muhammad Jirgis, High Madrasa teacher says: Both Abu Hashim and Mausoom Noor will easily win the seats. They are from late ABA Ghani Khan Chaudhry family. Abu Hashim, his brother, is sitting MP in South Malda and Mausam, her niece, is sitting MLA in North Malda. The family still holds the sway in the entire district.

Dr Noorul Islam Majidi in Baharal village in North Malda, however, is a little cautious. “Mausam Noor has no strong ground as people do not know her. She has not campaigned in the entire constituency. This is a new constituency. She is taking on a strong communist candidate Alen Sarkar.”

Congress-Trinamool alliance

While Trinamool of Mamta Banerjee has little presence in the two districts people feel the alliance will have definite impact on the Left Front.

Asked if Congress-Trinamul alliance will damage significantly the Left Front, Noore Khuda says: TMC is no factor in Murshidabad. Fight is here between CPM and Congress directly.

“In Murshidabad TMC has no ground but in entire state the alliance will affect Left Front. And this has been acknowledged by Left leaders including Jyoti Basu that there will be a tough fight in the election,” says Dr Mujeebur Rahman.

Ghulam Kibriya Sarkar does not agree. “The alliance will not affect the Left much as their grassroot organizational cadre is very strong. Besides, there is some resentment within Congress and TMC over the alliance,” he says.

Issues that matter

According to Syed Noore Khuda there are three major issues before public: they want secular government at the centre, implementation of Sachar Committee report and special educational and economic programs for Murshidabad.

The three issues on which Dr Mujeebur Rahman will vote are different. “Reservation for Muslims in education and services is the top issue. The demand is growing. When Congress and Left say it is unconstitutional, the literate electorates say the same has been done in southern states.” Second important issue is health and sanitation programs for the district and third one is soil erosion by Rivers Padma and Ganga.