How the communal twins, Imam Barkati and Dilip Ghosh, are polarising West Bengal
The confrontationist Hindu and Muslim 'warriors' are cut from the same cloth.
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The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)'s Mission Bengal has brought to the centrestage two foul-mouthed adversaries who are clearly made for each other.
Nur-ur Rehman Barkati, the Shahi Imam of the Tipu Sultan mosque in downtown Kolkata and Dilip Ghosh, president of West Bengal BJP, are battle-scarred gladiators for their respective causes but are evidently cut from the same cloth.
The confrontationist Hindu and Muslim "warriors" who love the limelight have so much in common that they come across as twins who were separated at birth.
But before anyone takes their religious identity too seriously, let me make it clear that Ghosh's Hindutva is as far removed from Lord Ram's benign Hinduism as Barkati's radicalism is from Prophet Mohammad's humanist Islam.
Ghosh shot to notoriety when he suggested that chief minister Mamata Banerjee should be "dragged by her hair" in Delhi as punishment for criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi over demonetisation. Barkati, who wears his allegiance for Banerjee on his sleeve, responded by promising a big fat cash reward for blackenening Modi's pristine white beard and hair.
Ghosh's actions and utterances are outraging Bengalis and hardening their general perception of the BJP as a 'dangai' (riot) party. Photo: PTI
Ghosh tendered an apology to Banerjee when he reailsed what lay in store for him in West Bengal where Banerjee is held in high esteem. But Barkati, blinded by his weakness for publicity, has degenerated into a serial Modi baiter.
He is currently in the news for refusing to remove the red beacon from his SUV. And Ghosh has got a ticket for riding a Royal Enfield without a helmet. Actress Locket Chatterjee, who rode pillion with the BJP leader too has been booked for not using protective headgear prescribed by law.
Are Barkati and Ghosh clowns in the media circus? No they aren't. There is nothing funny about their words or actions. Both are shrewd personalities with a knack for self-mythologising. They pander to the baser instincts of their followers in today's surcharged atmosphere.
How else does one explain Ghosh hitting the road, sword in hand on the auspicious occasion of Ram Navami? The weaponisation of politics is against the tenets of democracy. But warmongering can take you places.
At another level, Ghosh comes across as a political stuntman performing dangerous acts considered too risky for a regular politician.
Barkati too hasn't covered himself with glory. He, in fact, fills Muslims with shame. They squirm with embarrassment when he opens his mouth. Recently, when RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat yet again advocated the creation of a Hindu India, Barkati announced that if India ceased to be a secular country - as the former was advocating - "India's 25-30 crore Muslims should be given their Pakistan".
Barkati didn't stop at that. He threatened to launch a jihad, or holy war, if the RSS tried to push Muslims into a corner. Any call to resort to violence is illegal, unconstitutional and punishable. No words are enough to condemn Barkati's reaction to Bhagwati's provocation.
Indian Muslims have been exceptionally law-abiding since Independence. While Barkati's exhortation will not make them pick up the gun, the call itself is highly objectionable.
The right approach would have been to say that as Muslims have implicit faith in the Indian legal system, the community would knock on the Supreme Court's doors if any attempts are made to subvert the Constitution to create a Hindu Rashtra, reducing Muslims to second-class citizens.
Ghosh's statements too are polarising and condemnable. His venomous anti-Muslim remarks make many Hindus bristle. Many Bengalis I know say that Ghosh is truly representative of the RSS which has been banned not once but three times by the Indian government!
Ghosh has a major problem with West Bengal's census figures which reveal that Muslims account for 27 percent of the population. Like a stuck record, Ghosh keeps predicting that if Hindus don't wake up from their secular slumber, the state would turn into another Bangladesh or Pakistan.
Distorting facts comes naturally to Ghosh, who has been accused of lying through his teeth about his educational qualifications to the Election Commission. His supposed alma mater has no record of his presence! The matter is now before the Calcutta High Court and could have serious repercussions for the BJP's most important RSS inductee in the state.
Fortunately, the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat (AIMMM), the apex forum of Muslim organisations and institutions in India, has stepped in to put Barkati on silent mode. AIMMM president Navaid Hamid has sent written instructions to Barkati to focus on his religious-cum-spiritual role as the high priest of the premier mosque and steer clear of politics as his utterances are antagonising non-Muslims and embarrassing Muslims.
In short, Barkati has been ordered to shut up. Hamid, who is shepherding the AIMMM in difficult times, has also told Barkati to voluntarily remove the red beacon from his vehicle as any religious figure can do without it.
Unfortunately, Ghosh is yet to be censured or reprimanded by his bosses who don't seem to realise that his actions and utterances are outraging Bengalis and hardening their general perception of the BJP as a "dangai" (riot) party.
Maybe Ghosh enjoys the blessings and the full backing of BJP big guns in Delhi. But the silencing of at least one motormouth, Barkati, will come as a great relief to West Bengal.