In other parts of India, calling an area “mini-Pakistan” could become a major problem. So West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is facing a conundrum following a similar comment by one of her cabinet ministers. Firhad Hakim, the Minister for Urban Development and for Municipal Affairs, was so pleased to meet a reporter from Pakistan’s illustrious ‘Dawn’ newspaper that he addressed Garden Reach, his constituency, as “mini-Pakistan”.
The ‘Dawn’ report published on April 29 in fact even carries the phrase in its headline.
The report quotes Hakim saying, “Please come along and let us take you to mini-Pakistan in Kolkata.”
Of course, given the election season in the state, it has not gone down well with the Opposition. The BJP especially has taken offence to the remark. “This is unfortunate. Hakim was involved in several controversies even in the past, he is a close aide of Mamata Banerjee. We condemn this and urge the electorate not to give a single vote to Bobby Hakim,” BJP leader Bengal Siddharth Nath Singh said.
This photo taken by the reporter shows posters of Firhad Hakim written in Urdu. Dawn
The article itself is quite interesting as the reporter Maleeha Hamid Siddiqui, seconds Hakim’s claim by acknowledging that the area actually looks like a mini-Pakistan due to certain cultural and socio-economic identifiers.
The reporter notes and Hakim highlights that Muslim women in the area do not attend rallies unlike Hindu women.
Everyone who met Hakim during the tour spoke in Urdu instead of Bengali. In fact, she points out that all the signboards are in Urdu. Siddiqui also mentions that when she told a neighbourhood that she was from Pakistan, “they break into broad smiles and tell me of their relatives who live back home”.
At the same time Siddiqui notes that Hakim’s constituency resembles a slum full of squalor proving that Hakim’s constituency is a microcosm of what has eluded Bengal – development.
Hakim is being criticized for stereotyping Indian Muslims by associating them with Pakistan.
Other party leaders have either distanced themselves from his comment or alleging that it is a ploy of the Opposition to malign his name. The minister is also one of those facing the Narada bribe controversy. But despite Hakim actually denigrating Indian Muslims with his deplorable remark, he might still emerge victorious. Mamata has faced conundrums bigger than this. Since Bengal’s electorate is chiefly divided between Left, the Congress and TMC, this “mini-Pakistan” reference might never become an issue. Mamata can sleep easy.