Asaduddin Owaisi’s party AIMIM has seen a meteoric rise recently. The Hyderabad-based party with over 70 years of existence that was limited electorally just to Hyderabad for decades, with a Lok Sabha MP, few MLAs and some local election wins, now has two MPs, 14 MLAs and several seats won in local elections in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka and is eyeing minority-dominated seats across India.
And West Bengal is part of AIMIM’s expansion drive where polls are two months away and where Muslims are more than 27% of the population.
But with West Bengal’s prominent Muslim cleric Abbas Siddiqui’s decision to launch a political party, Indian Secular Front (ISF), days after meeting Owaisi and supporting him and his decision to contest elections in an alliance with the Left-Congress combine is going to make Owaisi’s road ahead in the state difficult.
And Owaisi’s being an Urdu-speaking Muslim only adds to the difficulties. Owaisi may get support from Urdu-speaking Muslims of the State but they are limited to north Bengal areas and are proportionately very less in number than Bengali-speaking Muslims who dominate many south Bengal constituencies.
They may see Owaisi as an outsider if he contests alone and if another prominent state-born Bengali-speaking Muslim is in his rival alliance. Abbas Siddiqui is Pirzada or religious leader of Furfura Sharif, an influential sufi shrine and has significant influence in south Bengal.
AIMIM wanted to contest on the minority-dominated seats in West Bengal but Siddiqui’s ISF that is influential in 36-40 seats is expected to cause more serious damage to Owaisi when it fights in an alliance with the Left-Congress combine.
In January, when Owaisi met Abbas Siddiqui, there were speculations that they may plan to contest the elections together and Siddiqui may even contest on AIMIM ticket. Siddiqui, once a vocal supporter of Mamata Banerjee, soon decided to take a different route.
He not only launched his party just two weeks after meeting Owaisi, but also decided to join an alliance with the Left Front and Congress which made it clear that it would not allow AIMIM to be part of the alliance.
A move that could establish him as a political pillar in State politics in future where Muslims play a decisive role in many constituencies.
According to a study by the late Prof. Iqbal Ansari and Pratichi Institute, Muslims are over 50% in 46 constituencies out of the total 294 constituencies in the State, 40-50% in 16 seats and 30-40% in 33 seats.
Muslims have overshot Hindus in three border districts in the State, Murshidabad, Malda and North Dinajpur. These districts share a border with Bangladesh. Murshidabad has 47 lakh Muslims and 23 lakh Hindus; Malda has 20 lakh Muslims and 19 lakh Hindus; and North Dinajpur has 15 lakh Muslims and 14 lakh Hindus. Besides these districts, South 24 Parganas, Hooghly and Howrah districts also have significant minority votes.
And a possible Left-Congress-ISF alliance may help all the stakeholders together to garner a huge junk of minority votes.
How it will affect Mamata’s votes is not clear as Siddiqui, at the moment, is a political greenhorn. Also many Muslims still support Mamata, even from the Furfura Sharif sect like previous Furfura Sharif sect Pirzada Twoha Siddiqui continues to support Mamata. According to a CSDS post-poll analysis, 70% of the Muslims voted for Mamata in 2019.
Though Siddiqui has said that he respects Owaisi and adds that he would not field candidates against AIMIM candidates and would appeal Muslims to vote for the candidates of Owaisi’s party, on ground, it is difficult to happen as Owaisi would also be targeting those very seats that the Left-Congress-ISF alliance is eyeing in the upcoming polls.
Asaduddin Owaisi wanted to emerge as a kingmaker in West Bengal but it seems Abbas Siddiqui has a different plan here.