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Muslim votes hold the key in West Bengal elections

Monday, 1 March 2021 (12:00 IST)
Kolkata: Muslims hold the key to all the three parties of Trinamool Congress, Congress and Left in the coming eight-phase West Bengal Assembly election.Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee faces a tough challenge in keeping her Muslim vote bank intact as the Congress and Left Front tries to revive its support base among Muslims.
In West Bengal, it is not easy for any party to ignore the Muslims and win the electoral battle. About 30 percent of Muslim voters in Bengal are in a decision-making role in about 100 of the state's 294 seats. Muslim voters in Bengal are considered the core vote bank of TMC since 2010.However, along with the Left and Congress, the BJP is now trying to bring the Muslim community into its fold.

Muslims are unequivocally clear as to which party they would vote for and offer the underlying reasons persuasively. Barring around 10 seats, TMC has emerged as the preferred choice even among the minorities, who have been hostile to the party until recently as they fear the coming election will be a bipolar contest between the incumbent and the BJP.

Everywhere, TMC is gaining the minority vote at the cost of the Left and the Congress. This bipolarity summarily rules out any flirtation with the new Muslim platform in the state.
The Indian Secular Front is backed by Islamic cleric Pirzada Abbas Siddiqui, an influential Muslim leader in Bengal. Siddiqui had previously supported Mamata Banerjee in 2011 and 2016 when she won the Bengal elections.
The much-hyped Abbas Siddiqui is nothing but hot air. While the followers of Furfura Sharif shrine are as numerous in Dijanpur, Malda and Murshidabad as in the south Bengal, they make a clear distinction between following a religious figure in religious matters while rejecting him in the political arena.
Of course, many Muslims, especially the youth, go to listen to him and appreciate the issues he raises, particularly the ones pertaining to the weaker sections. This explains why a section of minorities argue that he may end up being a part of the Left-Congress front wherein his pro-poor rhetoric could be offered as a justification for the alternative secular alliance.
“The TMC is thinking they will manage this time with 30 per cent (Muslim vote share). But I would like to tell them that we have 70 per cent (Hindu votes,” Suvendu Adhikari recently said at a public rally.
To strengthen the TMC’s claim in South Bengal — several districts dominated by Muslim voters — Mamata Banerjee has decided to shift to Nandigram constituency in East Midnapore district from Bhabanipur in Kolkata and counter Suvendu Adhikari’s switch from the TMC to the BJP.
Despite its outreach to Muslims, the BJP has negligible support base among Muslims primarily due to its emphasis on Hindutva. The BJP usually benefits from a division of Muslim votes in elections. A scramble for Muslim votes in Bengal, backed by its performance in the last Lok Sabha election, augurs well for the BJP in the upcoming assembly election.
As per the 2011 census, Muslims comprise 27 per cent of the population in the State and is projected to have increased to around 30 per cent now. Since 2011, the minorities backed the Trinamool Congress.
West Bengal ruling party’s greatest fear is of an invisible and unknown enemy that can split the minority votes, which are essential for Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to return to power in 2021.
While Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) has already claimed that it will be contesting in the State, there are several other outfits who are keen to fish in troubled waters .
“At this moment the greatest fear for Trinamool Congress is division of minority votes. Mamata Banerjee is well aware that any split of minority voters can make things more difficult for her,” a well known political observer said.
The shift of minority votes has been synonymous with change of power in the State. In the 2006 Assembly polls the Left Front recorded one of its biggest victories, winning 233 of the 294 seats in the State.
Soon after, however, it faced the twin challenges of the Sachar Committee report that showed the poor economic and social status of minorities in the State and the forcible land acquisition where peasants from minority community felt that their land was being taken away.
The shift of the Muslim vote towards the Trinamool Congress was complete by 2011, bringing to an end 34 years of the Left regime.“After ten years of overwhelming support of minorities the Trinamool Congress is facing litmus test of keeping its minority votes intact,” the observer added.
Hence, irrespective of a victory or loss, the TMC is expected to get the highest share of Muslim votes as community is consolidated behind the party, all these split theories notwithstanding.
Bengal has 294 assembly constituencies out of which 46 have a Muslim concentration of over 50 per cent. There are 16 seats where Muslims comprise 40-50 per cent of population, 33 seats with 30-40 per cent Muslims and there are another 50 seats where Muslims are 20-30 per cent as voters.

This makes Muslims a key factor in nearly half the constituencies in Bengal.There are over 100 constituencies in Bengal where Muslim voters have deciding influence in elections. Districts of Malda, Murshidabad, North Dinajpur, South 24 Parganas, North 24 Parganas, Nadia and Birbhum are particularly in the focus of political parties for Muslim votes and anticipated counter-polarised votes.
Three districts in particular — Malda, Murshidabad and North Dinajpur — have higher Muslim population than that of the Hindus. These Muslim-dominated districts are likely to see intense electioneering by the TMC, the Congress and Owaisi’s AIMIM. The BJP looks more for counter-polarisation.

According to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the TMC is ahead in 16 of the 22 assembly seats in Murshidabad and the BJP was leading in one. The Congress was ahead in five seats. In Malda, the BJP was ahead in six seats, Congress in four and TMC in two seats. In Uttar Dinajpur, the TMC and the BJP were in a neck-to-neck fight with the TMC leading in five out of the nine assembly seats.(UNI)

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