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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 48, November 22, 2014

Letter from Kolkata: Is Mamata fit to be the Chief Minister?

Saturday 22 November 2014, by Amitava Mukherjee

Siddhartha Nath Singh, the BJP leader in charge of West Bengal, has made a highly controversial comment, which may kick up a hullabaloo at the national level. Right at this moment there is no need to give much attention to Siddhartha Nath’s allegation that Mamata Banerjee had taken help from the Jamaat of Bangladesh to win certain Assembly seats situated near the Indo-Bangladesh border as the BJP leader has failed to cite any credible source save some intelligence reports of the Bangladesh Government that were referred to in some reports carried by several Bangladeshi news-papers. In the face of such a serious allegation Mamata however showed restraint and only a senior Minister of her Cabinet controverted Siddhartha Nath.

Here Mamata Banerjee was on the right track. But the Burdwan blast case has certainly exposed her deficiencies as an administrator and a party supremo. In this case also she left an impression that she was not happy with the investigation by the National Investigating Agency (NIA) although the dimension of the case is vast involving not only different States in Eastern and North-Eastern India but Bang-ladesh as well. Secondly, it appears from the progress of the investigation that Islamic funda-mentalists from Bangladesh had built up their networks in West Bengal over a long period of time and Mamata’s administration failed mise-rably to detect and prevent such developments. Perhaps this stark failure on the part of the State administration had forced the Central Government to order a suo moto investigation by the NIA.

The BJP is now trying to gain political mileage out of the water muddied by Mamata Banerjee. If independent sources are to be believed, then the West Bengal Government is not at all aware of the actual dimensions of the growth and development of fundamentalist Islam in Bangladesh and its likely impact on West Bengal. The BJP tried to take advantage of this situation when Siddhartha Nath Singh made a wild allegation that Mamata had refused to accompany Dr Manmohan Singh when the latter had gone to Bangladesh as the Prime Minister of India because she was already in league with the Jamaat and BNP.

Nothing can be farther from the truth. Mamata did not go with Manmohan because the Central Government had not fully shared with her the details of the Teesta river water sharing agreement which New Delhi intended to enter into with Dhaka and the blame for this fiasco was heaped on Shiv Shankar Menon, the then National Security Advisor, who, on behalf of the Government of India, did the negotiations with Mamata. But the Trinamul Congress has certainly earned a bad name as local as well as national-level newspapers have carried stories that a certain Rajya Sabha MP from the TMC is involved in siphoning off the Saradha chit fund money to the Jamaat and some other fundamentalist outfits of Bangladesh.

That the Government of India is attaching very high importance to the Burdwan blast became amply clear when Ajit Doval, the present National Security Advisor, visited the blast site as well as several other suspected dens of the Islamic terrorists in some other districts of the State. It is learnt that during his meeting with the West Bengal Chief Minister, Doval apprised Mamata about all the information and evidence the NIA has been able to collect including the ones on the Rajya Sabha MP who allegedly acted as the go-between the Jamaat and the Saradha money. While visiting the blast site at Burdwan, Doval reportedly asked the law enforcing agencies to inquire about two parti-cular points—first, why did the terrorists choose such an interior district like Burdwan for preparing explosives while there were more convenient border districts? And secondly, what was the identity of the people who helped the militants in securing rented accommodation? Unfortunately Mamata’s police probed neither of the two angles. On the other hand, an attempt was made to pass off the blast case as a mere law and order problem at the initial stage.

Still there is no concrete evidence in the public domain on whether the Trinamul Rajya Sabha MP had really any connection with the Jamaat or not. It is upto the NIA to investigate. But there should be no second opinion in regard to the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, Bangladesh (JMB)’s fledgling organisation in West Bengal and Assam. Strange as it may sound, successive govern-ments in West Bengal have overlooked the mush-rooming of madrasas in districts like Murshida-bad, Nadia and Malda. Most of them are unregistered. The blast in Burdwan brought to the fore the fact that even arms training was going on in some of them.

The Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, Bangladesh (JMB) was established in 1998 in Jamalpur, Mymen-singh. Its founder was Shayakh Abdur Rahaman who had his education first in a Bangladeshi madrasa and then in the Medina University. In 2005 the JMB carried out 460 simultaneous blasts in 63 districts of Bangladesh thereby killing and maiming numerous people. In 2007 Shayakh Abdur Rahaman and some of his associates were hanged. But the JMB found a new leader named Saidur Rahaman. In 2010 Saidur was arrested and after him his son Bashar has been running the organisation

But the fountainhead of radical Islam in Bangladesh is the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) and the JMB draws most of its cadre strength from the JeI. It is, however, highly unlikely that the Trina-mul Congress would have any connection with such organisations. Mamata’s failure lies in the fact that she completely mishandled the threatening spectre that had been developing for quite some time. For example, key suspects have been arrested from an interior district like Birbhum. It has now come out that materials for manufacturing explosives were first smuggled into the Murshidabad district from Bangladesh. Then these were brought to Kirnahar in Birbhum district which is one-and-a-half hours journey from the Murshidabad border. From Kirnahar those were sent to Burdwan. This practice had been going on for quite sometime and the State Police could never anticipate or intercept it.

The reason lies in the fact that the police and bureaucracy in West Bengal are demoralised now. There are instances of TMC cadres entering police stations and beating up police personnel. The situation reached such a pass that sometime back a senior police officer in Birbhum admitted that the police is now passing through a hard time. Even the Director General of the State Police has been hauled up and then rebuked by the Calcutta High Court for not performing his duty properly.

Examples of Anubrata Mandal and Arabul Islam, the party’s two strong men in Birbhum and South 24 Parganas district, have tarnished the State Government’s image. While the High Court was in favour of taking stringent penal measures against Anubrata, Mamata took him to her side while addressing public meetings. Sane minds in the State have described it as nothing but a frontal attack on the Indian penal system by a Chief Minister who is supposed to be its protector. Although Arabul Islam has been expelled from the Trinamul Congress, Anubrata has not yet been touched by the long arm of law although very serious criminal charges are there against him. It seems that Mamata does not understand the balance and respective roles which the executive, legislature and judiciary are expected to strike and play in a parliamentary democracy. It is imperative that she learns these as soon as possible.

The author is a senior journalist and he can be contacted at amitava_muk@yahoo.co.in