Of the long litany of complaints against West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, including her style of governance or the conduct of the ruling Trinamool Congress, the accusation of ‘appeasement’ of Muslims—at a time the BJP is aggressively trying to expand its beachhead in the state—carries the greatest sting. Such allegations began with one of her earliest decisions, in 2012, a year after she came to power, to apportion a monthly honorarium of Rs 2,500 a month for each of Bengal’s 30,000 Imams out of tax-payers’ money. In February 2012, she had declared that Urdu would be given ‘second language status’ after Bengali, and during a religious meet later that year had announced plans to introduce a scheme in which “landless, homeless” Imams would be eligible for three kottahs (one kottah is 720 square feet) of land each to construct a house, which would be funded by the government. Since then, other fiats by Mamata, like the announcement that 10,000 madrasas would be affiliated to the government, entitling these to apply for various grants, created controversies and moved critics and rivals to shrill protest.
At the forefront was the BJP. In 2014, it insinuated that Trinamool was “going soft” on Muslims with links to terror groups from Bangladesh, because the state government was initially reluctant to allow the NIA to probe the bomb blasts in Burdwan district’s Khagragarh in October which killed two, and was later suspected by the central anti-terror outfit to have been triggered by a module of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). “Why is the Bengal chief minister not allowing the NIA to do its work?” asked an incredulous Amit Shah during a visit to the state. And when Banerjee nominated Ahmed Hassan Imran, editor of Dainik Kolom and founder of the Bengal chapter of the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), to the Rajya Sabha in January 2014, it was as though she was deliberately provoking her fiercest critics.