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Behind Mamata-Owaisi Spar, a Raging Battle for Muslim Votes in Face of BJP’s Boosted Chances in Bengal

The AIMIM has been engaging in efforts to make inroads in Bengal by winning over the Muslim vote, a move that could devastate Trinamool Congress' chances in the 2021 polls in the face of a bigger challenge from the BJP.

Sujit Nath | News18

Updated:November 20, 2019, 1:32 PM IST
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Behind Mamata-Owaisi Spar, a Raging Battle for Muslim Votes in Face of BJP’s Boosted Chances in Bengal
File photos of Asaduddin Owasi and Mamata Banerjee.

Kolkata: With a vote share over 31%, Muslims have been a deciding factor in all elections in West Bengal. They were the determining factor during the Left rule till Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee’s clinched power in 2011.

Mamata knows it all too well that any significant division in the Muslim vote share that could affect the results in nearly 90 out of the 294 Assembly seats in the state could jeopardise TMC’s chances in the 2021 Assembly polls.

Meanwhile, in Hyderabad, Asaduddin Owaisi of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIMhas spotted a huge political opportunity in Bengal and has slowly been working to make inroads in the stae since 2011.

After winning the Kishanganj seat in Bihar for the very first time, Owaisi has been paying special attention to Bengal. Although he is yet to officially launch a party wing in the state, Owaisi is already engaging local youths to spread AIMIM’s ideology in Kolkata, North Dinajpore, Malda, Murshidabad, Jalpaiguri and Nadia districts.

Banking on Muslim votes (given that Hindu votes are likely to coalesce towards the BJP), AIMIM could come to stand a major challenge to ‘Didi’. Mamata Banerjee’s missive hence found its way to the AIMIM camp when she said, “Extremism is emerging among minorities just as there are extremists among Hindus. There is a political party and they are taking money from the BJP, they are from Hyderabad, not from West Bengal."

AIMIM’s Bengal head Jamirul Hassan in response said, “We were not against Mamata di but we were shocked when she called us extremist yesterday. Now we have to think for the betterment of Muslims in Bengal.” Hassan also said that the party will contest for all seats in the state.

Once a committed TMC worker, Jamirul had left the party following differences with Mamata over the Singur issue.

The Lok Sabha 2019 elections had also been unprecedented in the two-way polarized voting that the state had witnessed. BJP had openly played their Hindu card, while TMC banked on the Muslims. The polarization was so deep that even the Matua community, who had earlier been TMC supporters, swung towards the BJP for raising the Citizenship issue.

While the polarisation came as a concern for the TMC (as Hindu votes shifted towards the BJP), AIMIM’s plan to contest the 2021 Assembly poll in Bengal, could be a boon for the BJP due to the inevitable division in Muslim vote share.

In the recent months, TMC is trying to recover from the Lok Sabha poll debacle (by losing 18 seats to BJP) but AIMIM’s silent campaign in Bengal has left Mamata more worried now.

In the last six months, the TMC has managed to regain its lost ground in some of the BJP stronghold areas. Speculating a change in the Muslim vote in the 2021 polls, Mamata for the first time resorted to using the phrase ‘extremist among the minority’ during a rally in Cooch Behar where the Hindu and Rajbonshi vote share is more than 80 per cent.

According to political expert Mohit Ray, if AIMIM were to contest the assembly elections in 2021, a change in the poll arithmetic for the TMC is bound to happen. “BJP will not be impacted because as they are very clear about their political line. But this might be disastrous for Mamata and therefore to cover up the ‘minor swing’ towards AIMIM, she is now desperate to increase her Hindu vote share,” he said.

In 2019, TMC garnered 43 per cent votes (despite losing 12 seats) which is 5 per cent more as compared to the 2014 Lok Sabha. In 2014, TMC had won 34 seats, while in 2019 it managed to secure only 22 seats. “But despite losing 12 seats, TMC’s vote share has increased because they got the full support of Muslims,” Ray said.

“On the other hand, in 2016 Assembly election BJP’s vote share was 12 per cent and in 2019 Lok Sabha it went up to 39 per cent. The vote share increased by 27 per cent mainly because of Hindus coalescing towards the BJP. It was evident in the results that votes were driven by religion,” he added.

“Now with AIMIM’s entry – one thing is certain is that it will dent Mamata’s Muslim vote share. She is, therefore, trying to create a buffer to counter BJP’s allegations that she is practicing appeasement politics,” he said while adding that Mamata will now try to get a part of BJP’s 27 per cent increased vote share.

In West Bengal, nearly 22 per cent Muslims live in Kolkata while the majority of them (nearly 67 per cent) live in the Murshidabad district. The second and third highest Muslim population lives in North Dinajpur (51 per cent) and Malda (52 per cent) respectively. In North Dinajpur and South Dinajpur, the Muslim population accounts for 49.92 per cent and 25 per cent respectively.

West Bengal accounts for the second-highest Muslim population in India — nearly 2.47 crore— which forms nearly 27.5 per cent of the state’s population.

In the 2016 Assembly polls, TMC had won in almost all the 90 minority-dominated Assembly segments. In the densely Muslim populated areas comprising of more than 40 per cent of the electorate – TMC had surged ahead in nearly 60 out of 65 Assembly constituencies.

Hence, it is evident that a minor swing in the Muslim vote share towards the AIMIM could turn the tables for TMC in 2021 and work to BJP’s favour.

TMC leader Colonel Diptanshu Chaudhary (Retd), said, “This individual called Owaisi, who claimed to be a Muslim saviour, had not done a good thing for the Muslims. Before any election, he plays his religious card to polarise votes to help the BJP. He is a BJP agent.”

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