West Bengal is going to witness the crucial upcoming Assembly Polls on ‘religious line’ as Asaduddin Owaisi, chief of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), is aiming at polarising the Ahl-i Hadith and ‘Barelvi’ sects beside eyeing at ‘a share of Deobandis’ to make a significant impact in North Bengal and the bordering areas in the State.
Out of nearly 2.50 crore Muslim population in Bengal, nearly 40 per cent voters are ‘Deobandi’, while ‘Barelvi’ sect consists of 30 per cent voters and Ahl-i Hadith comes third with 25 per cent.
Political experts believe that a significant number of Owaisi’s supporters in West Bengal belong to Ahl-i Hadith and ‘Barelvi’ sects, which jointly contributes to nearly 55 per cent of voters among Muslim populations in the State.
A close look in the various Muslim sects and their vote share in West Bengal revealed that 95 per cent Muslims in the State are Sunni while the rest 5 per cent are Shia. The Ahl-i Hadith and ‘Barelvi’ sects - which jointly contribute to nearly 55 per cent of voters - are believed to a ‘decisive factor’ in North Bengal and the bordering areas.
Political experts have said, banking on Ahl-i Hadith, ‘Barelvi’ and ‘optimistic’ over a share of Deobandi vote share in the upcoming polls – Owaisi has decided to address his first-ever political rally in Kolkata’s Metiabruz area (highly Muslim-populated area) on February 25 to polarise the voters within the various Muslim sects in Bengal.
Speaking to News18.com, AIMIM’s senior leader in West Bengal, Jamirul Hassan, said, “We are looking forward to Owaisi’s first-ever public meeting in the State. Many leaders from other political parties and organisations will join in the presence of Owaisi. Soon we will announce the number of seats and assemblies where we want to contest the polls.”
Given the new political equation between the Indian Secular Front (formed by Abbas Siddiqui), Congress and the Left Front, Hassan said, “We had meetings with Indian Secular Front leaders but it is on mute mode at present. Whatever may be the alliance structure in future, one thing is clear that we are contesting the Assembly poll in Bengal this time. We have a significant number of supporters who belong to the Ahl-i Hadith and ‘Barelvi’ sects - which jointly contribute to nearly 55 per cent of voters. As far Deobandis are concerned, we will certainly get a portion of their votes as well.”
He said, “The poll arithmetic is simple here in Bengal. Out of the nearly 2.50 crore Muslim population, 40 per cent of voters are ‘Deobandi’, ‘Barelvi’ consists of 30 per cent and Ahl-i Hadith comes third with 25 per cent voters. Rest 5 per cent vote share is distributed among some Muslim clerics. To be precise, Abbas Siddiqui has only 2-3 per cent vote share in the entire state.”
Hinting at Abbas’s inclination towards the Left and the Congress, he said, “This time, it is not easy to ignore Owaisi in Bengal. We will apply the same strategy in Bengal the way we applied in Bihar. In Bihar, we won five seats by consolidating Ahl-i Hadith, ‘Deobandi’, and ‘Barelvi’ vote share.”
In the 2016 Assembly polls, the ruling TMC was ahead in nearly 90 Muslims dominated Assembly seats, the BJP was ahead in one. The Left and the Congress (which fought the election in an alliance) were ahead in 39 Assembly segments. With AIMIM in the battle, it will advantage BJP as they will certainly be going to divide the Muslim vote bank of TMC.
In the last few months, TMC managed to regain its lost ground in some of the BJP stronghold areas.
In 2019, TMC got 43 per cent votes (despite losing 12 seats) which is 5 per cent more than the 2014 Lok Sabha. In 2014, TMC got 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.
On the other hand, in 2016 Assembly BJP’s vote share was 12 per cent and in 2019 Lok Sabha went up to 39 per cent. There was an increase of 27 per cent vote share mainly because of Hindus coalescing towards the BJP.
With Owaisi’s entry in Bengal, AIMIM is likely to take away some share of Mamata’s Muslim votes if his alliance with Abbas Siddiqui continues smoothly.
The party has already appointed three persons in-charge of Bengal to look after the poll affairs. They are former Mayor of Hyderabad Municipality Mohammad Majid Hussain, State AIMIM president Zameerul Hassan and AIMIM national spokesperson Asim Waqar.