After Bihar Success, Can Owaisi’s AIMIM Make A Mark In Bengal?

Owaisi has his ammunition ready; Bengal’s record in socio-economic development of Muslims in N Bengal is dismal.

3 min read
Image of Asaduddin Owaisi used for representational purposes.

The success of Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) in Bihar marks a significant shift in the voting pattern of Muslims. This development is likely to have a bearing in the coming state assembly polls of West Bengal, Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu in 2021, and later in the crucial state polls of Utter Pradesh in February 2022.

Post-anti CAA stir, a section of Muslims seemed disillusioned with ‘secular’ mainstream political parties. The revocation of Article 370 in J&K, the Ayodhya verdict, proposed legislation against interfaith marriages, police investigations into Delhi communal riots – have made many Muslims sit up – they fear, more than anything else, further drastic changes in law and administration affecting their lives.

Uphill Task For Secular Parties

In this scenario, hawkish pronouncements by Owaisi and his ability to call a spade a spade, are resonating with the youth.

The rise of the Hindu right seem to have given more space and opportunities for the AIMIM. Owaisi has also developed a penchant for forging alliances with Dalit outfits like the Mayawati-led BSP in Bihar, and Prakash Ambedkar's VBA.

Many secular parties like the Congress, the Samajwadi Party, RJD, Trinamool and others are finding themselves ‘falling between the two stools’.

They have an uphill task to counter BJP's aggressive Hindutva agenda on the one hand, and match AIMIM's march into Muslim votes and psyche on the other.


Why ‘Seemanchal Model’ Doesn’t Bode Well For Secular Democracy & Muslims In India

Since India’s independence, both the Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha had sold a vision of the Two Nation Theory, where politically, Hindus and Muslims could not coexist. Islamic scholars like Maulana Hussain Ahmed Madani and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad opposed this line of thinking. According to them, there is a qualitative difference between two Urdu words: qaum and millat. Quam implies common national heritage of Hindus and Muslims – the age old socio-economic ties and synchronicity.

Millat has a more simplistic definition of a community.

AIMIM’s success in the Seemanchal has a dangerous potential for Muslims to lean towards Islamic politics in whichever area they are numerically more.

But there are only such regions. As a political entity, AIMIM has a right to further its cause and expand its base. Muslims have the freedom to vote and reject those who are unable to counter majoritarianism. With elected representatives declining in the state assemblies and in parliament, the Seemanchal model does not augur well for secular democracy and for the Muslims in India.

Breaking Into Bengal’s Muslim Vote Bank?

Bengal is suddenly on everyone's mind. Would Malda region be a hunting ground for Owaisi and AIMIM? On Tuesday, 10 November, Owaisi ‘attacked’ Bengal Congress unit leader, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury for reportedly calling AIMIM a ‘vote cutter’ in the Bihar elections. “... Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury has to respond why the condition of Muslims is so bad in his own constituency. He has to say what he did for Muslims,” Owaisi said.

The Congress is particularly vulnerable as it carries a lot of baggage – 58 major riots before Godhra, ‘unlocking’ of Babri, flipflop on Muslim Personal Law, AMU and legal infirmness of seemingly pro-minorities measures.

Owaisi has his ammunition ready. Mamata Banerjee and Bengal’s record in socio-economic development of Muslims in North Bengal is rather dismal.

This was highlighted in the Sachar Committee Report. A thorough study of madrasas in Bengal was conducted by late Dr AR Kidwai, former governor and parliamentarian. The Kidwai report’s recommendations for modernisation of madrasas has been gathering dust since 2002. Given the circumstances, Owaisi has a opportunity to perhaps break into Mamata Banerjee’s Muslim vote bank, but right now, it’s too early to tell.

(Rasheed Kidwai is the author of ‘24, Akbar Road, Ballot’ and ‘Sonia: a Biography’. He is a Visiting Fellow at the ORF. He tweets at @rasheedkidwai. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own.The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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