Basirhat: In minority-dominated Basirhat that witnessed massive riots two years ago, the chief electoral agenda is triple talaq. And Mamata Banerjee is scrambling to address it.

Mamata fire-fights triple talaq

The Bengal CM scrambled to address the 'growing disaffection among the minority community towards the Trinamool Congress by suggesting, regardless of the opinions of its candidate Nusrat Jahan, the party stands against the criminalisation of instant triple talaq. Batting against one of the most pro-woman reforms for the minority community by the Modi sarkar, Mamata declared, she is against the Triple Talaq Bill. Holding the hand of TMC's glam girl, on the one hand, Mamata announced, "I know few of you are upset about a comment by Nusrat. Please don't take it to heart. She is a kid. She doesn't understand all these. My party has just one stand. She won't deviate from the party stand. Just keep that in mind".

Though Mamata didn't use the phrase 'triple talaq', she was referring to a comment made by the Bengali film actress who took a contrastingly opposite yet liberal view on the matter.

What did Nusrat say and why does it matter?

Immediately after being nominated by the Trinamool Congress, Nusrat made her stand clear, "How can you end a relationship or harass a woman by simply uttering three words? This is wrong. I extend my support for the law to curb triple talaq". While most would take this statement in the right spirit, the electorate in Basirhat that votes on May 17, didn't. 

The Basirhat headquarter based in Basirhat I CD Block has an overwhelming Muslim population. According to the 2011 census, 117,617 Muslims form 68.54% of the population there. Though overall, in the district, that percentage is lower, it can undoubtedly create trouble for the TMC if the Muslims decide to vote en-masse against TMC.

Soon after Nusrat made this statement, many Muslim leaders openly campaigned against her, even urging Muslim voters to vote for CPIM instead of TMC to 'teach them a lesson'. Mamata's hurried fire-fighting was to douse this crisis.

The tinderbox that is Basirhat 

The twin town of Baduria and Basirhat erupted into a full-blown communal riot in 2017 when a 17-year-old student from the majority community made an unparliamentary comment on the Islamic prophet Muhammad through social media. Though the student was immediately nabbed, protestors gheraoed the Baduria police station, ransacked houses and burnt shops belonging to the other community. It left one dead. 

Two years on, the wound is yet to heal, and the social fault line is visible just after a merely scratching the surface. No wonder then, in a high pitched battle in Bengal where each seat matters, Mamata could hardly afford to antagonise an entire community, even if it means objecting to gender equality of Muslim women.

"She doesn't even know the subject", said Mamata leaving the TMC candidate embarrassed on stage. The crowd broke out in claps, and many nodded in approval. Mamata may or may not end up saving the Basirhat seat, but she certainly helped bolster the BJP's narrative of appeasement politics in a state that is sharply divided on communal lines than in any other state in 2019 general election.