July 10, 2017

India: Minority bias a myth - Interview Mahua Moitra is general secretary of West Bengal Trinamool Congress

The Times of India

‘Minority bias a BJP myth … Telangana spends double and Karnataka three times more than Bengal on minorities’

July 10, 2017, 2:00 am IST Rohit E David in The Interviews Blog

Mahua Moitra is general secretary of West Bengal Trinamool Congress and a member of the state assembly from Karimpur. With violence flaring up in Darjeeling again and communal tension in North 24 Parganas district, she spoke to Rohit E David on charges of mismanagement and bias against the state government, Centre-state tensions and the political challenge from BJP:

Darjeeling is again on the boil and there has been communal violence in other parts of the state. Why is the whole of Bengal in turmoil?

As far as the two districts of Darjeeling and Kalimpong are concerned, the Bengal government is fully committed to negotiation with all non-violent stakeholders while maintaining the basic premise of the indivisibility of the state under any circumstances.

The situation in Basirhat is almost back to normal. Hence, it is highly irresponsible and incorrect to say that entire Bengal is in turmoil.

But Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and Gorkha National Liberation Front have rejected chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s offer of talks, saying they will only negotiate with the Centre.

Trinamool has been open to negotiations from day one. However, we cannot do this when there is widespread violence, offence and looting. We are against the division of the state and the creation of Gorkhaland.

If Gorkhaland agitators believe that BJP can give them Gorkhaland, we advise BJP to come clear on its stand.

In communal violence in North 24 Parganas, didn’t we see a breakdown of the state machinery?

There was no breakdown in state machinery. The police acted on a teenager’s Facebook post and arrested him. When tensions rise it is necessary to show restraint rather than use force immediately.

Why are you not allowing anyone to go to riot-hit areas?

The state of Bengal is open, its airports, roads and railways are functioning as always. The district of North 24 Parganas is open for business and normal life.

Only in Basirhat-Baduria area, like in every law and order situation the world over, the district administration has enforced prohibitory orders similar to what we saw in Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh recently. Any prudent government will take this precaution in the immediate aftermath of sectarian violence. We also seek to normalise the situation with minimal external interference.

Your party has been accusing the state’s governor of crossing constitutional boundaries. Why?

The honourable governor’s history as an ex-state BJP president of Uttar Pradesh does not inspire faith in his declared neutrality. His words and actions unfortunately reinforce his past. His letters to the chief minister on his official letterhead enclose memoranda from the state BJP in Bengal.

This is the sorry truth which has been vindicated by the Bengal BJP chief declaring that the governor is a soldier of Modiji’s vahini.

Does Trinamool have an element of bias towards a certain community?

Not at all. This charge of minority bias is a myth perpetuated by BJP. For example the allegation of free houses to 50,000 imams in Kolkata is absolutely untrue and the charge of changes to textbooks is absolutely untrue.

As for charges of bias in targeted expenditure, the figures speak for themselves. In Karnataka with Muslim population of 78 lakh (13.2% of the state), the minority affairs (MA) department’s budget for 2017-18 is Rs 2,750 crore, a per head allocation of Rs 35,256. In Telangana with a Muslim population of 44.6 lakh (14.2%), the budgetary allocation for MA is Rs 1,279 crore or Rs 28,677 per head. However, in Bengal which has a Muslim population of 2.5 crore (27.5%) the MA budget 2017-18 is Rs 2,815 crore or Rs 11,433 per head.

So Telangana spends more than double and Karnataka three times of what Bengal does on minorities.

Mamata has accused BJP of spreading rumours through social media. Can you substantiate this?

These are not just accusations but backed by hard proof. Haryana BJP leader Vijeta Malik used an image from a Bhojpuri film ‘Aurat Khilona Nahi’ to post fake Facebook images about the plight of Hindu women in Basirhat. This image was widely circulated by BJP social media cells and members.

An ex-BJP state president of Bengal squarely defeated in two consecutive Lok Sabha elections and now installed as governor of Tripura, continues to make inflammatory Twitter posts and retweet incendiary messages by bhakts.

Isn’t there a danger of this communal violence spreading to other parts of the country?

Violence in Basirhat was contained within the area and did not even spread to nearby villages. Given the BJP’s toxic policy of using communal tensions to consolidate their vote bank, India may sadly see more hatred and bloodshed in the days to come.