Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Red flag fills red card vacuum


Barhait (Jharkhand), Dec. 1: Mansa Turi laughs and hammers home the role welfare — or the lack of it — plays in restive regions: “If you don’t have a laal card (BPL card), take up the laal jhhanda (red flag of the Maoists).”

The 40-year-old farmer hastened to add that “many of us won’t join the Maoists but there are others, including Muslims, taking up the gun”.

Barhait, about 40km from the district headquarters of Sahibganj, Jharkhand, has a sizeable Muslim population. Many here said they never got a BPL card but those with higher incomes flaunt it.

Any group joining the Maoists is a cause for concern but home ministry officials are particularly worried about towns like Barhait, where they feel that Maoists could exploit the disgruntlement of the minority community.

The increasing presence of Bangladeshis in Sahibganj and near the border areas of Bangladesh, such as Kishanganj in Bihar, is also stoking concern in the ministry that fundamentalist groups could fish in troubled waters, aided by the guerrillas.

Bihar and Jharkhand are among the seven worst Maoist-affected states with substantial populations of Dalits and Muslims. Thirteen per cent of Jharkhand’s population is Muslim. In Bihar, Muslims and backward castes make up over a fourth of the population.

In Andhra Pradesh, the Maoists’ Left-wing ideology found supporters among some Muslims in 2005-06. The Centre fears that the Maoists could be looking for similar support in the eastern states of Jharkhand and Bihar.

In 1992, Muslim landlords were said to be part of the Sunlight Sena in Bihar, an outfit engaged in frequent skirmishes with the Naxalites.

But poor Muslims’ problems are the same as those of the poverty-stricken tribals, among whom Maoists enjoy wide support.

“How long can one keep going to the block office? They tell us to go to Sahibganj (the district headquarters) where they make us run from pillar to post to get a job done,” said Sadiq, a small-time Muslim farmer in Barhait. But he kept mum when asked if Muslims were drifting towards the Maoists.

Maoist leaders have made no bones about their sympathies for Islamic groups, though they also said there were differences in ideology.

In 2007, CPI (Maoist) general secretary Ganapathy, asked why the outfit had not spoken up for Muslims, said: “It is wrong to describe the struggle that is going on in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Palestinian territory, Kashmir, Chechnya and several other countries as a struggle by Islamic fundamentalists or a clash of civilisations….

“In essence, all these are national liberation wars, notwithstanding the role of Islamic fundamentalists too in these struggles. We oppose religious fundamentalism of every kind ideologically and politically as it obfuscates class distinction and class struggle and keeps the masses under the yoke of class oppression. However, Islamic fundamentalism, in my opinion, is an ally of the people in their fight against the market fundamentalism promoted by the US, EU, Japan and other imperialists.”

In Nepal, the Maoists could not get a toehold in the Terai region till they got support from Muslims.

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