After Bihar assembly elections, after the GHMC polls, now the full focus of all political parties has shifted on West Bengal assembly elections to be held in April-May of 2021.
The players to watch out are:
- Trinamool Congress – The present ruling party at the State
- The BJP – The present ruling party at the Centre
- The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) – Led by Asaduddin Owaisi, it has now become a force to reckon with. It won five seats in recently concluded Bihar Elections. It is fast emerging as a major player whom its rivals do not dare to underestimate.
- Fringe players – The grand old party, the Congress and the Left parties. Both these are steadily paling into insignificance.
Bengal key facts and figures
According to the 2011 census, Muslims formed 27.01 percent of the total population of West Bengal. Now this figure has reached nearly 30 percent. The districts of the state bordering Bangladesh have a large population of Muslims. In Murshidabad, Malda and Uttar Dinajpur, the population of this section is half or more of the total population. Apart from these, they also have a significant presence in South and North 24-Parganas districts. Thus, out of 294 seats in the assembly, this section accounts for 100 to 110 seats and are decisive.
This aspect politically gives rise to two schools of thought for the concerned political parties to frame their ideologies. One convenient path is to appease the minorities while the other is to keep the confidence of majority intact. Naturally, the growth of minority community in number will also be a cause for concern for the majority community. Till 2006, the Muslim vote bank of the state was occupied by the Left Front. But later, people gradually came closer to Trinamool Congress. In 2011 and 2016, it is due mainly to this particular vote bank, that the Trinamool Congress is in power.
The Trinamool Congress
The veteran Trinamool Congress leader Mamta Banerjee has been in power for nearly ten years. Her main support comes from her solid minority Muslim vote bank. While in power, Mamata has continuously launched dozens of schemes to help the minorities. These include government assistance to minorities’ madrasas, scholarships for students of this section and financial assistance to maulvis. For this reason, all political parties including BJP have been accusing him of appeasement politics.
However, in the recent times, a section of minorities has started showing increased resentment towards the Trinamool Congress.
Mohammad Kamaruzzamman, general secretary of the All Bengal Minority Youth Federation, says, “Muslims who support the Trinamool Congress for a long time are now disillusioned with it.” He claims that Owaisi has considerable influence among Bengali Muslims. Owaisi has never compromised with the BJP. Interestingly, Kamaruzzamman appealed to Muslim sections to vote for Trinamool in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Credentials of AIMIM
Enter the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) led by Asaduddin Owaisi in West Bengal.
Won five seats in Bihar elections. Got impressive vote share. This entry has also seen all the traditional equations going haywire.
Natural questions that begin to arise are:
- Whether Owaisi will spoil Mamata’s game by making a dent in the vote bank,
- Will it help BJP to gain power by splitting the Muslim votes.
In the Bihar elections, the performance of CPI (M-L) along with BJP has also been good. But the interesting thing is that before the Bengal elections, the most discussed topic here revolves around Owaisi’s party which won just five seats in Bihar’s Seemanchal area.
However, Trinamool Congress, Congress and the Left do not publicly show that they give special consideration to AIMIM’s entry. But, behind closed doors, they are busy formulating new strategies to deal with the situation.
After the Bihar election results, Owaisi did offer Mamata a pre-poll alliance to contest the polls. But Mamata and her Trinamool Congress, in an apparent display of arrogance, rejected it. Earlier Mamta Banerjee had even accused Owaisi of taking money from the BJP for entering Bengal.
In recent times, the Trinamool Congress has stepped up attacks on Owaisi and his AIMIM.
Party spokesman MP Saugata Rai says, now the real face of AIMIM has come in front of minorities. In Bihar, Owaisi’s party has helped BJP gain power by making a dent in minority votes. There is a huge difference between the Muslims of Bihar and Muslims of West Bengal. Owaisi will not get such success here. Rai admits that Owaisi do have some influence on Hindi and Urdu-speaking Muslims. But he may not have any influence on Bangla speaking Muslims.
The Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim has on record labelled AIMIM as a communal force. The BJP has persuaded it to enter the West Bengal assembly elections as a vote-cutting party. This party, like the BJP, is moving ahead on the politics of partition. Siddikula Chaudhary, a minister in the state government and president of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, claims that Muslims in Bengal are politically conscious and mature. They will not support any external party and BJP’s B team.
The West Bengal Congress President Adhir Ranjan Chaudhary has described AIMIM as a B-team of BJP. He says that the only goal of Owaisi’s party is to split the Muslim votes and harm the secular political parties. BJP will benefit from this.
Senior CPM leader Mohammad Salim has stated, “If the BJP and the media do not promote Owaisi, then his party will not be able to leave any mark in Bengal politics.”
The BJP bandwagon rolls on
Even in the South, the BJP has managed to establish itself firmly as is evident from the GHMC Election Results 2020. In Telangana, as a strong Opposition, the BJP is emerging as a big force, as an alternative to the ruling party at the State. It is best tasted by the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) in Telangana. Irrespective of the outcome, the BJP has valid reasons now to celebrate.
The party is likely to now focus on the West Bengal turf.
The division of Muslim votes is crucial for the BJP’s electoral victory. But the party’s national vice president, Mukul Rai, says, “We don’t need any B or C team to win West Bengal assembly elections.” The party will win more than two hundred seats on its own.
BJP’s State Minority Front President Ali Hussain also claims, we do not need Owaisi’s party to make a dent in the minority vote bank. From the results of the last Lok Sabha elections, it is clear that now the BJP is getting the votes of this section in Bengal. The party will also get five to ten percent Muslim votes in next year’s assembly elections.
Meanwhile, the BJP has made it clear that it will not team up with AIMIM or anyone else to contest elections in Bengal. But, the fact is that all political parties have internally been making a strategy to face the Owaisi challenge.
In fact, with the strengthening of BJP in recent years, the rapid religion-based polarization has accelerated in Bengal, the presence of Owaisi in particular is capable of spoiling the equations of the ruling party.
Amidst the strong challenge from the BJP, now Owaisi is, in all probability, expected to pose a new headache for the Mamata Banerjee government.
Muslim leaders of the state say that the equations are likely to change with AIMIM contesting elections here. AIMIM national spokesperson for ‘Mission West Bengal’, Aseem Waqar, says the party has formed units in 22 of the 23 districts in the state. A survey is currently being conducted. The number of seats that the party will contest will then be decided.
In such a situation, the presence of Owaisi can provide a new option to such people.