With friends like this who needs enemies?
Just yesterday I had wondered if the National Commission for Women was paying attention to Dilip Ghosh, the state president of the BJP in West Bengal.
Well, whether the National Commission for Women was paying attention or not, the Shahi Imam of the Tipu Sultan mosque in Kolkata certainly was.
Ghosh, in his wisdom, had told the world that they had the power and the police muscle to drag Mamata by the hair to punish her for her demonetisation theatrics.
"Jab woh Delhi mein natak kar rahi thi, hum chahte toh unka baal pakad ke nikal sakte the, humari police hain wahan par hum aisa nahi karte. Ek CM iss tarah ke shabd PM ke liye istemal karti hai, woh thik nahi hain." (When Mamata was continuing her theatrics in Delhi, had we wanted, we could have dragged her by the hair. Our police is there, but we didn't do it. A CM using such words for the PM isn't right.)
"I issued the fatwa which states that he should be pelted with stones and then kicked out of Bengal."
The Shahi Imam was incensed as many were and justifiably so. But the maulana decided, in his wisdom, to issue a fatwa against Ghosh. According to The Economic Times, Maulana Noorur Rahman Barkati said, "I issued the fatwa which states that he should be pelted with stones and then kicked out of Bengal." This is retaliation for Ghosh's 'filthy' comments against Banerjee.
An emboldened Ghosh retorted that this was neither Pakistan nor Bangladesh that the Maulana could go scot free.
And thus a story about rampant misogyny has now become a Hindu-Muslim, India-Pakistan story, anti-national-patriot story.
She really does not need the Maulana of the Tipu Sultan mosque to be her knight in shining armour. By trying to assume that role, and with a fatwa no less, the Maulana has given the BJP the perfect opportunity to change the conversation.
Not that long ago at the Democratic National Convention Michelle Obama had received thunderous applause when she had shrugged off below-the-belt attacks from the Trump campaign saying that when they go low, we go high. That didn't work at the polls and obviously that lesson has been absorbed everywhere. Here in this case, we see that when they go low, we can go lower. A threat of violence can be answered by another threat of violence.
The Maulana has a lot on his plate right now with the court decision on triple talaq. By rushing to the defence of Banerjee, he plays into the stereotypes that the BJP relishes, of a Bengal chief minister indebted to her Muslim vote bank. Banerjee is a doughty fighter. She has trounced her opponents, increased her seat tally, survived the Saradha scam fallout.
She really does not need the Maulana of the Tipu Sultan mosque to be her knight in shining armour. By trying to assume that role, and with a fatwa no less, the Maulana has given the BJP the perfect opportunity to change the conversation. Instead of being red-faced by the loose tongue of its president, the BJP is now calling a press conference to denounce the 'inhumane Islamic statement and fatwa' issued on its president. It can play the patriotic victim instead of brutish male chauvinist. It can now demand an apology instead of trying to squirm out of issuing one.
A fatwa is simply a learned interpretation of Islamic law that a qualified jurist can provide. They are not universally binding. Scholars issue fatwas based on scripture rather than personal opinion and they should not be based on political servitude or individual opportunism. Unfortunately the fatwa has taken on more ominous undertones in popular perception these days.
The Maulana may not realise it but most people have visions of Taslima Nasreen and Salman Rushdie when they think of fatwas. This fatwa, with its image of stone pelting fits right into that stereotype. It does little to enhance Mamata Banerjee's stature. It does even less to put forth a robust argument against demonetisation which was what the whole debate was originally about. At least Asaduddin Owaisi was making an economic point about discrimination when he alleged that ATMs in Muslim-dominated areas of Hyderabad were not functioning or that fewer ATMs or bank branches exist in those areas anyway. Those are arguments that can be debated.
But this is not debate. This is just verbal fisticuffs of the lowest order, rapidly deteriorating into a gladiatorial combat between misogyny and communalism.
The Imam of the Tipu Sultan mosque has just muddied murky waters by his act as the self-appointed champion for Banerjee's honour. While Narendra Modi talks about demonetisation being India's brave leap into a cashless modern future, his cohorts and opponents seem ready to drag us back into some bloody medieval past. If one talks about dragging a woman by her hair, the other responds by threatening to pelt someone with stones.
Is anybody living in the 21st century anymore?
Also on HuffPost India.