Kolkata: West Bengal and its capital, Kolkata, saw a different Eid al-Adha that was celebrated on 12 August this year.
Unlike previous years, there was considerably less number of complaints of cow slaughter this time, according to the police. Last year, the Kolkata Police had registered at least 40 FIRs based on complaints filed by several right-wing organisations of cow slaughter on the day of Eid al-Adha.
A senior Kolkata Police official said no incident of communal tension was reported around the time in the city and districts. Also, there was no circulation of cow slaughter videos or related posts on social media — one of the reasons that had triggered communal riots in the state earlier.
The West Bengal police and the state administration had taken some measures in this regard, and they did not go unnoticed. For example, some police stations in the districts had circulated posters requesting the Muslim community to not slaughter animals in the open. The state administration too, on its part, made efforts to ensure there was no flare-up on the day of Eid.
These moves are being seen as Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s attempt to reach out to the Hindus, especially after the Lok Sabha election results in May that saw the BJP breaching Bengal with 18 seats and 40 per cent vote share, and regain the lost ground.
Appeal for peace
A few days before Eid, the Baruipur police in South 24 Parganas district had circulated posters with a message for Muslims. “The main reason behind Qurbani is to convince Allah, but never to hurt anyone. We all respect the religious sentiments of our Hindu brothers and other communities. We appeal to all not to bring the slaughtered animals in public and post any video or images of the slaughter in social media. Islam means peace and love,” said the posters, which were in Bangla.
On the other hand, the Kolkata Police kept a strict vigil to ensure no animal is sacrificed in a public place. “We did not put any posters or issued any advisory as such. But we knew the spots, locations and the groups. So we tried to bring down the number of incidents involving illegal cow slaughter by keeping a strict vigil,” said a police officer.
Urban Development Minister and Kolkata Mayor Firhad Hakim had also appealed to the Muslim community to be “restraint, sensitive and careful about others’ sentiments”.
The Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) had even formed a special task force, comprising nearly 2,500 staff, to clear garbage a day after Eid from Muslim-dominated areas such as Garden Reach, Ekbalpur, Kidderpore, Metiabruz and Park Circus, among others.
Subrata Gupta, president of BJP’s cow development cell, conceded that this time police did keep a check on rampant slaughter of cows. However, he also maintained that the police did not file FIRs when members of his cell went with complaints.
“Our volunteers went to police stations to register complaints, but police officers wanted to see the slaughtered cow and the spot. They came with us, but requested us to not file FIRs. In some areas, they took action too. We listed some 35 complaints, but we are not sure about their status. We will file an RTI to know about the cases,” Gupta said.
A veteran CPM leader and a former state minister, who did not wish to be named, said all these efforts are part of Banerjee’s attempt to counter the BJP’s allegation that she is anti-Hindu.
“It seems that the Bengal chief minister is recently taking initiatives to win over the Hindu electorate and trying hard to build a counter-narrative to BJP’s campaign calling her government anti-Hindu. Both the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the BJP have now indulged into competitive communalism,” he said.
On 13 August, Trinamool’s Banga Janani wing staged an eight-hour dharna in central Kolkata to protest against the Income Tax department issuing notices to Durga Puja committees.
The TMC has been alleging that the BJP, a “Hindi heartland party”, will not allow Bengali culture to flourish, and is therefore “imposing tax on Durga Puja committees”.
Kakali Ghosh Dastidar, a Trinamool MP and head of Banga Janani wing, told ThePrint, “BJP is a party of Hindi heartland. They will not allow Bengali culture and society to flourish. They are trying to impose their cultural and religious beliefs on us. They are imposing tax on the biggest Bengali festival Durga puja.”
“It is not only a Hindu festival, the Muslims and other communities too also work for the festival, they also go out for pandal-hopping. This is a social festival. The BJP government is trying to destroy this,” she alleged.
On 11 August, the CM had posted in a series of tweets protesting the tax.
She tweeted, “The Income Tax Dept has issued notices to many committees who organize Durga pujos, asking them to pay taxes. We are proud of all our national festivals.”
“These festivals are for all and we do not want any pujo festival to be taxed. This will be a burden on the organizers. Bangla govt withdrew tax, which was earlier there, on Ganga Sagar Mela. We protest and demand ‘no taxation on Durga pujo and Durga pujo committees,” she said in her subsequent post, before requesting “all people who love Bangla” to join the 13 August protest by Banga Janani wing.
The Income Tax Dept has issued notices to many committees who organize Durga pujos, asking them to pay taxes. We are proud of all our national festivals 1/3
— Mamata Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) 11 August 2019
Following the protest on 13 August, the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) issued a statement the same day, rebutting reports about Income Tax notices issued to Durga puja committees.
Banerjee then hit out at the CBDT in a Facebook post, saying the CBDT was trying to mislead people, and that it would send tax notices next year also.
Last year, the chief minister had announced sops for puja committees in Kolkata and other districts. The sops included a waiver for all sorts of licence fees for the puja organisers and Rs 10,000 donation from the government to at least 28,000 puja committees across the state. It cost the exchequer around Rs 28 crore.
It’s all drama, says BJP
The Bengal BJP meanwhile called the Mamata government’s efforts to check communal tension on Eid a “drama” and a “failed attempt to woo the Hindus”.
“No Bengali and no Hindu can forget how she blatantly restricted visarjan (immersion) of Ma Durga a few years back to please her vote bank. The day coincided with Muharram and she issued order to put immersion on hold for days. The government should ensure that all communities could practise their religion. In Bengal, Hindus were not allowed to do so. In some places, Saraswati puja was also not allowed. Now, after the election results, she is rattled,” said state BJP president Dilip Ghosh.
Rubbishing Ghosh’s claims, Dastidar said: “What BJP is trying to propagate is utter nonsense. Didi (Mamata) thinks and cares for all communities.”
A political observer, who did not wish to be named, pointed out, “The chief minister of late is chanting Sanskrit shlokas and mantras a lot. In fact, during all election campaign meetings she chanted all mantras together. She was trying to address the majority constituency.”
Significantly, in May this year, after the Lok Sabha elections results were out, Hakim had announced honorariums for priests working at KMC-run crematoriums.
Last week in a public meeting, state minister Rajib Banerjee said the government would consider the long-pending demand of Hindu priests for a monthly allowance.
Banerjee’s announcement of monthly allowance for Muslim clerics in 2012 had drawn sharp criticism. The Calcutta High Court had even called her government’s decision “unconstitutional”.