Rushdie kept out of Kolkata,new campaign targets ‘visit by Obama’

Mamata Banerjee had extended Obama an invitation last May during a visit by Hillary Clinton

Written by Madhuparna Das | Kolkata | Published: April 23, 2013 12:36:58 am

A campaign brewing in rural Bengal threatens to “send back” Barack Obama the moment he lands in Kolkata,though the US President hasn’t announced any plans to visit the state.

Security agencies have submitted a report to the state government saying the campaigners have vowed they would force Obama,if he does land in Kolkata,to leave from the airport itself. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had extended Obama an invitation last May during a visit by Hillary Clinton,then secretary of state.

Behind the campaign is an umbrella of Muslim organisations,one with growing influence,and the same one that had prevented a visit by author Salman Rushdie in January. The government had to persuade Rushdie to call off his visit to the Kolkata Book Fair following protests by Muslim organisations under the banner of the All Bengal Minority Youth Federation.

The federation’s general secretary,Mohammad Quamruzzaman,confirmed they are now using the perceived visit by Obama as a rallying point. “We formed this pressure group to bargain with the government over various demands,” said Quamruzzman. “And to unite people,we needed to announce a cause. The visit by President Obama has proved the most effective cause for uniting people.”

Leaders of the ruling party,too. have taken note. “Yes,such a campaign against Obama is on,” conceded Nurul Islam,Trinamool Congress MP from Basirhat. “It is giving a new shape to minority politics in West Bengal. I have met some groups and tried to persuade them. Mukul Roy too met some community leaders and told them the US President is not scheduled to visit Kolkata.”

“It is obvious the campaigners have an ulterior motive because there is no plan by the US President to visit these parts,” said Sultan Ahmed,Trinamool MP from Uluberia.

Trinamool leaders noted the emergence of the minority youth federation as a strong pressure group. It had organised a rally with around 30,000 people outside the American Center to protest against the film Innocence of Muslims. The protest shut US Consulate and the American Center for two days.

The security report on the ongoing campaign,accessed by The Indian Express,names several Muslim organisations using the prospect of a “possible visit” by the US President to launch a campaign,and the federation for uniting these groups.

It traces the roots of the campaign to Hillary Clinton’s visit. Having arrived via Bangladesh,Clinton had mentioned her country’s desire to partner with West Bengal in development initiatives. Mamata had then said Bengal would love to have Obama in Kolkata.

The campaign to unite disparate Muslim organisations against such a visit began months ago,home department officials say. Reports accessed by The Indian Express show the groups held 18 meetings in December and January in South and North 24-Parganas,Murshidabad and Malda,and at least five in Kolkata and on its outskirts,all discussing plans to thwart any move to “bring the US President”.

The minutes of the meetings quote senior leaders as having urged their community “to unite and rise in protest against the programme taken up by the government of West Bengal and India to invite the President of the US to Kolkata”.

The report counts 12 major Muslim organisations and over 25 smaller units as having been brought under the single umbrella. Senior members of organisations such as Sara Bangla Sankhyalaghu Chhatra Federation,Sara Bangla Sankhyalaghu Yuva Federation and Sunnat-Al-Jamayat and Seba Foundation of Furfura Sharif participated in the meetings.

All these groups were once behind the Trinamool Congress,a fact confirmed by sources in these groups as well as in the party. They had campaigned strongly among minorities to vote for “change” in the 2011 assembly polls,which eventually brought Mamata to power and broke the Left Front’s 34-year run. Some of these organisations,in fact,have members with their roots in the Trinamool.

Two years since Mamata’s victory,many of these leaders are upset at the way the government has been dealing with Muslims. They have been putting pressure on the government to end what they allege is neglect of the community.

The federation held a large rally at Kolkata’s Shahid Minar ground on March 26 to protest police action on Jamaat-e-Islami supporters in Bangladesh.

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