Why Bengal’s Murshidabad and Malda are India’s most dangerous districts today

While Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina has chased a large section of Islamists out, Mamata Banerjee’s Bengal government has created a welcoming gateway for the radicals into her state.

Their names appear occasionally in national media, almost never in a good way. We see the news, feel disturbed for a while, and forget.

Murshidabad and Malda are too far from our immediate lives for us to bother for too long. Yet, none of India’s 718 districts is a more dangerous and growing national security threat than these two. These two Bangladesh-bordering districts are a bigger ticking time bomb than Pulwama, Kupwara, Baramullah or Shopian in Kashmir, Barpeta or Dhubri in Assam, Bastar or Sukma in Chhattisgarh, Pakur or Sahebganj in Jharkhand, and Malappuram or Kannur in Kerala.

Early morning last Saturday, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) picked up five suspected Al Qaeda terrorists from Murshidabad, besides four from Ernakulam in Kerala. They were reportedly planning attacks in Delhi, Mumbai and Kochi.

While information about them are still blurry, at least one of them, Leu Yean Ahmed, seems to be a Rohingya. What seems to be his Facebook page reveals Leu to be a Zakir Naik fan, and an avid reader of the Saimum series of novels from Bangladesh in which a fictional organisation and its hero free Palestine from Israel and fight for Islamist causes worldwide.

If Leu indeed turns out to be a Rohingya, it will reconfirm Murshidabad as a busy illegal transit hub for extremists from Myanmar’s Rakhine province into India. Many of them were caught trying to pass themselves off as locals or Bangladeshis, their accents giving them away.

During Partition, there was a strong case for Muslim-majority Murshidabad to be part of Bangladesh and Hindu-majority Khulna to be in India. However, because of their respective geographical quirks, the reverse happened. In 1947, the Hindu population of Khulna was 52 percent. It now stands at 11 percent.

In Murshidabad, however, the Muslim population has swelled to 67 percent at last count. Neighbouring Malda has more than 51 percent Muslims.

Pamphlets recovered from local Al Qaeda operatives have shown that these two districts are part of Al Qaeda’s plan to create a greater Bangla merged with Bangladesh and some parts of Assam and Jharkhand. In their scheme of things, integrating these areas into an Islamic nation gives contiguity to the green arc of the Islamic world from sub-Saharan Africa to Arabia, Persia, central Asia, Pakistan, Jammu-Kashmir-Ladakh, China’s Xinjiang, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Murshidabad saw the first gratuitous wave of anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) violence, with entire trains, stations, and hundreds of buses, trucks and cars burnt to the ground.

In October last year, RSS activist Bondhu Prakash Pal, his wife Beauty and 6-year-old son Angan was found with their throat slit.

Mullahs have started objecting to Bengal’s core cultural celebrations like Durga Puja and Saraswati puja. They issued a fatwa against young girls playing football in Murshidabad. The district is a smuggling hub for explosives, narcotics and cattle. In 2018, for instance, 98 kg of bomb material was seized on its way to extremist groups in Bangladesh.

Malda is no less a threat.

It has repeatedly hit the headlines more often. Kaliachak near Malda city burned in 2016 over a presumed insult to Prophet Mohammed. The district has hundreds of acres under secret narcotics cultivation guarded by murderous militias. Central agencies have lately cracked down on it, but gun-running, sex-trafficking, drug transport, and jihadi money transfers are still rampant.

Murshidabad and especially Malda geographically breathe on the Chicken’s Neck, one of India’s strategically most vulnerable spots, a narrow strip of land sandwiched between Nepal and Bangladesh. This is the place that Islamist Sharjeel Imam had threatened to severe to cut off the North East from the rest of India.

While Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina has chased a large section of Islamists out, Mamata Banerjee’s Bengal government has created a welcoming gateway for the radicals into her state, making Murshidabad and Malda an extremist’s haven and a lot more sensitive than these already were.

Now, there is a very deceptive thing about Islamist havens. Not too many terror attacks or overground political activity happen in the beginning. The ground shift happens quietly, peacefully, because evil has a safe place to live and breed.

But a time comes when it reveals its form in entirety, and then it becomes a lot more problematic a zone to handle than ones where attacks are often staged. Europe has had this experience in cities like Brussels, Antwerp and Oslo where jihadis quietly grew in numbers and strength because of local governments’ ultra-liberal policies and then terror-links and violence started erupting, or in Birmingham which lovingly cradled the continent’s largest and most perverted grooming gangs.

It is only a matter of time that we will see a call for secession in these two districts. Under the TMC government, the extremist will have time to grow further till they demand their complete writ. With the rise of Hindutva and the BJP, the call will come sooner but before more damage on the ground.

Either way, how much attention India pays to these two vital districts now will decide whether the sun rises or permanently sets in our east.

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