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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

The myth of Muslim appeasement in West Bengal

Data reveals under-representation of Muslims in the professional sphere and public life.

New Delhi |
Updated: April 20, 2021 9:18:58 am
The myth of Muslim appeasement in West BengalWhile discussing the question of Muslim appeasement we must take the cognisance that Muslims constitute about 27 per cent (2011) of the state’s population — nearly double of the national average of 14 per cent. (File)

Written by Sabir Ahamed & Md. Zakaria Siddiqui

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)— the key contender in the ongoing West Bengal Assembly election— availed every opportunity to showcase Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s “Muslim appeasement policy” to polarise the electorate.

The much-publicised appeasement policy includes remunerations to imams and muezzins or prayer callers by the State Auqaf Board (stipends for imams), hosting of allegedly expensive Iftar parties by the government and extensive temporary residential arrangements for Hajis in the state capital.

The issue of Muslim appeasement was extensively promoted recently by one of Banerjee’s erstwhile associates, Subhendu Adhikari, who has joined the BJP. In a series of campaign speeches, Adhikari has accused Banerjee of Muslim appeasement and addressed her as “Mumtaz” or/and “Begum”, indicating her “close association” with the community. Adhikari said that “if begum comes back to power, the state will turn into a mini Pakistan”.

The key question is if the policies to “appease” minorities have impacted the lives of Muslims in West Bengal in the last 10 years of Trinamool Congress (TMC) rule. Does the claim of minority appeasement hold?

While discussing the question of Muslim appeasement we must take the cognisance that Muslims constitute about 27 per cent (2011) of the state’s population — nearly double of the national average of 14 per cent. There have indeed been a few symbolic initiatives addressing the minority community. It is also equally true that the development of minorities in the state is very slow.

However, a recent article (‘State of turmoil’, IE, April 16), based on the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) 2018, has shown that there has been a significant increase (17 per cent in 2018) of Muslims in government and public sector jobs. The authors have argued that the expansion of Muslim representation is at the expense of the Hindus.

The source of PLFS data is a sample survey by the NSS. Its primary objective is not to estimate the participation of social groups in government jobs and thus the figures mentioned in the article could be misleading. These estimates have a very high margin of error as the number of observations pertaining to people having government jobs in the surveyed data is very low. For example, the sample size for the government employees in West Bengal were 773 in PLFS 1 and 739 in PLFS 2.

Our own calculations underscore that estimates for the share of social groups in government jobs vary widely from one survey to another. Let us consider one more example. The share of Muslims in government jobs in West Bengal in 2017-18 as per PLFS 1 is nearly 17 per cent.

However, the same estimate when done from PLFS 2 (2018-19), throws up an entirely different number: 10.8 per cent, which implies a reduction in government jobs for Muslims by more than six percentage points. Such a reduction within one year is implausible. This is purely because estimates are based on very thin samples.

The definition of government jobs is based on a variable provided by PLFS data — enterprise type of the workers. So, people working for government bodies, public sector enterprises and autonomous bodies are considered as having government and public sector jobs.

Staff Census data, on the government employment, published by the Government of West Bengal, show a marginal increase (less than 1 percentage point) in the representation of Muslims in the government jobs from 2008 to 2016. As per the Staff Census data (2008), only 5.19 per cent of the total 3,47,798 state government employees were from the Muslim community. In 2015-16, a marginal uptick was recorded — it went up to 6.08 per cent.

These numbers should be viewed in relation to the population share of Muslims in the state — 27 per cent. Compared to other social groups, Muslims are far behind in public sector jobs. Scheduled Tribes (STs) share in government jobs in Bengal is 5.07 per cent with a population share of 6 per cent. For Scheduled Castes (SCs), it is 17.66 per cent. SCs make up 23 per cent of the state’s population.

The authors have also indicated that the social space for Muslims has significantly increased, symbolised by the first Muslim mayor of Kolkata in independent India in 2018. A deep dive into the employment data reveals a gross under-representation of Muslims in civic bodies.

An RTI application by one of the authors reveals that till 2019, the percentage of Muslims in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) was 5.2 per cent (1,123 out of 21,285 were Muslims), up from 4.5 per cent in 2008. With no fresh requirement and more reliance on outsourcing of the municipal services, the absolute number of Muslims in civic services has dipped from 1,555 in 2008 to 1,126 in 2019. In Kolkata Police, there are only 2,897 (11.14 per cent) Muslims while the total strength is 25,999, the RTI data reveals.

During the Left Front rule (2008), Muslims constituted 9.13 per cent of the force. Muslim presence in the force increased by just 2.01 percentage points between 2008 and 2019. The government data clearly indicate that there has been a minimal increase in the representation of Muslims in government jobs and fewer Muslims are employed in absolute numbers in important institutions like Kolkata Police and the KMC. The pace at which representation in government jobs is increasing, it would take over half a century for Muslims to be at par with the population share in the state.

The resounding victory of Mamata Banerjee in 2011 can be attributed to overwhelming support from the minority community. Besides the Nandigram and Singur protests, the publication of the 2006 Sachar Committee Report highlighted the lack of Muslim representation in formal employment.

Even a cursory look at the data tells us about the under-representation of Muslims in the sphere of professional and public life. Certainly, there has been a significant increase in the number of Muslim lawmakers in the state assembly. Of 294 members, 20 per cent are Muslims in the present assembly. Of the 44 ministers, about five were included in the Cabinet.

However, barring urban development and municipal affairs, Muslim ministers were not given charge of any important portfolios. The representation of Muslims is likely to reduce with the rise of BJP in the state and the incumbent has fielded fewer Muslim candidates in the ongoing election.

Muslims are more than one-fourth of the total population and have lived a life largely free from communal violence. Yet, their representation in the upper echelons of society is still minimal. But a change — in a very limited way — can be noticed. A new education movement evolved in the state due to the setting up of the community’s own residential schools in various districts. More Muslims are enrolling for higher education. This is creating some ripples in society.

Sabir Ahamed is National Research Coordinator at Pratichi Institute and Zakaria Siddiqui is Associate Professor at Gulati Institute of Finance and Taxation.

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