(This is Part II of a two-part commentary on the role of minority politics in the upcoming Bengal elections. Part I can be accessed here.)
With the rise and rise of the BJP in the last 8 years, minority politics in the country is also shifting towards a community-centric politics, due to fear and identity crisis. Now it’s a matter of national debate within the minority community, that the Muslim should have his / her own secular nationalist party or they must continue with other mainstream secular and regional parties. Within this debate, several small parties from different backgrounds, now featuring as formidable forces, are trying to fulfil this political vacuum.
In the recently-concluded Bihar elections, the Progressive Democratic Alliance (PDA) – which has 8 partners, and Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM-led Third Front proved to be kingmaker with more than 10 percent votes.
AIMIM’s Role & Potential Impact In 2021 Bengal Elections
A similar phenomenon had been noticed in the Maharashtra elections and Assam elections, where minority communities were searching for a secure, effective, and favourable alternative. We can thus conclude that, amid rising minority politics in West Bengal, three important minority factors can influence the upcoming state elections.
First, Owaisi's AIMIM can split the minority vote in some assemblies such as Malda, Murshidabad and Uttar Dinajpur districts, which will bear an influence, and can be an important factor in the Urdu-speaking parts of Kolkata and Howrah. But it won’t be an easy victory like Bihar, because they don’t have an organisational framework here as they do in Bihar.
Perhaps AIMIM will have a greater impact on the vote bank of the Congress rather than Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC), because of Congress seats in Bengal belonging to Sujapuri Muslim-dominated areas.
The second striking factor is the rise of Pirjada Abbas Siddiqui who is very popular in Bashirhat, Hooghly, and Howrah. Recently, he announced that he’ll be contesting in the 44 seats from the Muslim-dominated assembly in South Bengal, forming his own party. Another recent development was Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury visiting his home for a discussion, perhaps in the hope that if Pirjada Abbas Siddiqui allies with the Congress, then they would be able to hinder TMC.
Thirdly, the crucial aspect will be the sharing or cutting off votes between TMC, Congress, and CPIM.
However, BJP have already secured its maximum votes in the Hindu-majority western districts like Bankura, Purulia, Jhargram, and Midnapur and northern districts like Darjeeling, Kalingpong Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar.
Typically, TMC and the Left will play the most dominant role in these areas. Now apart from all these seats, the 90 to 100 seats where minority votes could be shared is more than 30 percent.
If all these factors gain ground, the scales will tip in favour the BJP with an assurance to secure 30-40 seat from this Muslim-dominated assembly.
This, without doubt, will be a big blow to the ruling TMC government in Bengal.
Rise Of BJP In Border Districts & North Bengal
In the 2016 assembly elections, the BJP had won only 3 seats, and it had 10.16 percent vote share from the total. And if we compare the vote share of BJP for 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, we see a massive increase in its vote share from 16.8 percent in 2014 to 40.25 percent in 2019. If we analyse this path-breaking victory, we can obviously find out the rise of Hindutva politics in three key areas like Jangal Mahal, North Bengal and the area surrounded by the island city of Nabadwip.
Looking at the 2019 general election result, we can clearly see that the BJP has been more focused on the border districts of Bengal with an eye on the 2021 state election.
PM Narendra Modi and the Home Minister Amit Shah’s visits have also impacted public opinion, mostly in Bankura and Midnapur areas. They are clear in their strategy to secure 100-120 seats from these border districts, and the rest 40-50 can be made possible if the vote-cutting strategy works in central and south Bengal.
Why Are Muslims Voters Questioning Mamata-Led TMC Regime?
No doubt in the last two state assembly elections, Muslims fully supported the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC government, but now, with disappointment setting in, Muslim communities are seeking an alternative.
That these Muslim votes would ever be reverted to Congress or CPIM seemed improbable, as these two ideologies were seen as unfit for the masses. Mamata Banerjee announced that they have fulfilled 90 percent of their promises for the minority community.
However, Muslim voters, along with some popular figures, questioned the credibility of this statement, as the Mamata Banerjee-led government has stopped giving recognition to new madrassas which was one of the key promises by the TMC and a top priority for Bengal’s Muslims.
In the last few years, they were unable to fulfil the recruitment process for the madrassa service commission and failed to give jobs to Muslim youths.
Also, several issues emerged with regard to the 10 percent reservation for the minority community in the government. The government’s inability to generate sufficient employment did not go down well with the minority community, as the Mamata-led government used it as a plank to come back to power in Bengal.
Also, TMC lacks a popular Muslim face, who could ideally represent the community and ease out discontent among minorities. Siddiqullah Chowdhury and Toha Siddiqui’s popularity is also on the decline among the minority community, due to their little or no intervention in several issues which are of concern to the minority sentiment.
(Mehebub Sahana is a Research Associate, School of Environment, Education & Development, University of Manchester, United Kingdom. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)