Mamata Banerjee’s focus on non-aided, Khareji madrasas trigger ‘vote politics’ row
West Bengal’s projected population in 2021 stood at 101.9 million. During the last 2011 census, the Hindu population stood at 70.54% while Muslims comprised 27.01%
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s focus on the state’s non-aided as well as Khareji (independent) madrasas has triggered a row with opposition parties and Muslim clerics seeing this as a move by the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) to woo minority voters in the state ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Addressing the state legislative assembly on Monday, Banerjee said her government will form a committee of experts to improve the infrastructure at Khareji madrasas, which follow their own syllabus and are funded by charity from Muslim community members and institutions.
“The Khareji madrasas have around 500,000 students. We have plans to develop these. A high-power committee comprising educationists, officials from various government departments and representatives of the Muslim community, will soon be formed. It will conduct a survey and submit its report in six months,” Banerjee told the Assembly.
The chief minister also referred to the 720-odd non-aided madrasas, which follow the syllabus of the West Bengal Board of Madrasa Education but are not affiliated to it yet despite their long-standing demand.
“We will give recognition to 700 non-aided madrasas. Of these, 235 have already fulfilled the criteria for government affiliation,” Banerjee said while describing what her government has done for Muslims, tribal people and other minority communities after coming to power 12 years ago.
West Bengal’s projected population in 2021 stood at 101.9 million. During the last 2011 census, the Hindu population stood at 70.54% while Muslims comprised 27.01%.
Though Muslim voters backed the TMC in all polls since 2011- when Banerjee overthrew the 34-year-old Left Front government – a shift in Muslim votes created trouble for the ruling party in some pockets of Murshidabad and South 24 Parganas in the July 8 panchayat elections. The TMC lost seats to the Congress and the Indian Secular Front (ISF) in these two districts amid violence.
In February, too, Murshidabad, where Muslims comprise 66.28% of the population, the state’s highest, caused concern for TMC when Byron Biswas, a Left-backed Congress candidate, won the Sagardighi assembly seat in a bypoll. Biswas recently joined TMC in the presence of the party’s national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee.
The recent announcement by chief minister Mamata Banerjee on the madrasas has turned the focus on Muslim voters.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the state’s principal opposition force, which claims that the Muslim population in Bengal now hovers around 34%, says Mamata Banerjee is making new promises to draw the attention of the minorities.
“At the most, she can provide mid-day meals to these madrasas with funds from the Centre. These are electoral promises,” said BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari, the Assembly’s leader of the opposition criticising Mamata’s statement.
Strong criticism has come from ISF leader Nawsad Siddiqui, the only Muslim opposition legislator in Bengal, whose family is the custodian of Hooghly district’s sacred Furfura Sharif shrine.
“Mamata Banerjee wants to woo Muslims to secure votes. If she is so concerned, why are 10,000-odd posts lying vacant in the 614 government-aided madrasas?” said Siddiqui who, in 2021, wrested South 24 Parganas district’s Bhangar assembly seat where Muslims comprise 68% of the population.
The chief minister recently proposed that Bhangar should be brought under the jurisdiction of the Kolkata police since it witnessed unprecedented violence and at least five killings during the panchayat polls.
The Clerics, too, have opposed any state intervention in running Khareji madrasas.
“There are around 1,800 Khareji madrasas in Bengal, of which around 1,000 follow the syllabus of the Darul Uloom Deoband seminary. The rest follow the guidelines of at least four different seminaries,” Md Yahiya, chairman of the West Bengal Imams Association, told HT.
“We vehemently oppose any move to influence the running of Khareji madrasas. They run on the charities that Islam has earmarked for various purposes. Technically, these madrasas cannot be aided by any government. Moreover, Khareji madrasas have developed their curriculum in keeping with time,” Yahiya added.
The Bengal chief minister’s plans on madrasa education come at a time when the BJP leadership has set a target of winning 35 of the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats in 2024. In 2019, the BJP set a record by winning 18 seats but the tally now stands at 16 after two MPs joined the TMC.
Muslim voters play a decisive role in as many as 120 of Bengal’s 294 assembly seats, according to surveys done by the BJP and TMC. In 2021, the BJP could win only 75 assembly seats.