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HVK Archives: Building spree

Building spree - The Week

Tapash Ganguly ()
February 15, 1998

Title: Building spree
Author: Tapash Ganguly
Publication: The Week
Date: February 15, 1998

Few centenarians will be in such a robust state. The Al-Mahadus-
Salafi mosque at Lalgola, a small town in Murshidabad district
near the Bangladesh border, conceals its age thanks to the face-
lift it got when the madrasa, the mosque's centre for Islamic
studies, added two sprawling wings recently.

At Jangipur, also close to the border, the Nabab Jaigir mosque
was a shambles not too long ago. Today people's jaws will drop
if they see the amazing transformation it has undergone.
Meanwhile the devout of Benipur village of Murshidabad, which too
is in the vicinity of the border, are merrily building their
fifth mosque.

Indeed, the faithful in the five districts bordering Bangladesh-
Dinajpur, Malda, Murshidabad, Nadia and North 24 Parganas-seem to
be on a mosque-building spree. Before December 1992, when the
Babri Masjid in Ayodhya was pulled down, there were 325 mosques
in the 27 police station areas adjacent to the border. A recent
survey by a Central intelligence agency revealed that "more than
350" new mosques have come up in the area since then.

And new madrasas as well. There were 47 of them in 11 police
station areas before December 1992. Since then 10 new madrasas
have sprung up in just five police station areas.

The Central and state governments have no clue why so many
mosques and religious institutions are being built along the
border. Nor have they tracked down the agencies which are
ostensibly funding their construction and maintenance. But the
intelligence agency knows one thing for sure: a liberal flow of
funds from abroad, which it estimates at Rs 200 crore, is
fuelling the frenzied building activity.

It is no secret that some of these institutions have become
training centres for the fundamentalists. "We know they harbour
smugglers and fanatics from across the border. But we cannot do
anything because of political pressure," says a senior official
in Murshidabad which is the only Muslim-majority district in the
state.

According to the survey, Murshidabad had the highest number of
mosques before the Ayodhya incident: including 67 at Lalgola, 45
at Rani Nagar, 39 at Suti, 18 at Raghunathgunj and 17 at
Bhagabangola. It was followed by Malda district where Kaliachak
had eight mosques, Malda and English Bazar Station four each. In
Nadia district, Karimpur led with 13 mosques and Tehatta had
eight.

Post-Ayodhya the maximum number of mosques have come up in Malda
district: at Baishnanagar (36), English Bazar (17), Kaliachak
(10) and Malda (8). In Murshidabad district, 11 mosques were
built in Suti, eight in Rani Nagar and two in Lalgola police
station areas. Interestingly all the mosques and madrasas have
come up within 15 kilometres from the international border.

While the sleuths suspect that funds for building most of the
mosques have come from abroad, that is not true in the case of
the Islipara mosque at Aurangabad. It was built by the owners of
the local Pataka Bidi Company, which is the second largest such
venture in the country. Though Islipara already had four mosques
the owners of the company wanted to build another, alleged a
local politician, to keep its 1,000-odd employees together and to
prevent them from taking off under the pretext of offering
prayers.

Caretakers of the new or renovated mosques say that funds have
hardly been a problem. The Al-Mahadus-Salafi mosque at Lalgola,
according to Abdul Khayyam, a former secretary of its madrasa,
was built with aid from the Islamic Development Bank. "It had
sanctioned a loan of $1 lakh in the mid-80s but the money could
be utilised only now," he said. The expenditure of maintaining
the madrasa, which enrols 55 children for a 12-year course in
Islamic studies, comes to about Rs 2.5 lakh a year.

The money, says Khayyam, comes from "public donations". Ditto
says Mumtaz Mondal when he was asked how the once-decrepit Nabab
Jaigir mosque managed the dramatic turnaround. And at the High
Road Para Mosque, the fifth in Benipur, senior madrasa teacher
Moulvi Abdus Shakur says emphatically that the mosque was built
with "public donations".

Who are the donors? "There are more than a hundred smugglers who
operate near Benipur," says a local police officer. "They give
funds so that they get shelter."

Smuggling of cattle to Bangladesh is a lucrative business in
Murshidabad district: unofficial estimates put the annual
turnover at Rs 200 crore.

The politician-police-smuggler nexus is so strong here that
government decisions are allegedly implemented only with their
approval. It is also alleged that the politicians provide
protection to the fundamentalists who in turn encourage
infiltration. "The ulterior motive is to upset the demographic
balance of the border districts," says a senior police officer of
Murshidabad.

Obviously this has been going on for many years. According to a
census report the highest rates of population growth during 1981-
91 were registered in seven border districts: among them 24
Parganas (North and South) recorded 30.8 per cent, Nadia 29.8,
Malda 29.6 and Murshidabad 28 per cent, when the state average
was 24.5 per cent.

It is not just the smugglers and infiltrators who are benefiting.
Most of these border districts elected Left Front candidates,
especially Marxists, in the last assembly polls. Not surprisingly
there are hardly any measures to tackle the infiltration and
clear the doubts that are building tip in the border districts.


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