Several organisations of Muslim clerics in West Bengal have started sensitisation drives against communal political forces amidst the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM)’s decision to make foray into the state’s electoral politics.
The campaign has been launched after Imams of various districts, in separate meetings, recently discussed about the rise of “divisive politics” and how to prevent the division of minority votes.
The Imams of north Bengal districts of Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Coochbehar, North Dinajpur, South Dinajpur and Malda met at a lodge in Islampur in North Dinajpur district last week to discuss about the ensuing assembly elections due in April-May next year.
In the meeting, they discussed about their role in preventing the rise of communal political forces and division of minority votes.
A similar meeting of Imams of a few other minority dominated districts was held in Berhampore in Mursidabad district earlier this month. The meeting reportedly discussed about role of the clerics in preventing the spread of communal culture.
Another organisation of clerics, Jamiat-e Ulema-e Bangla, also gave a call from its meeting in Dankuni near Kolkata on November 13, to strengthen communal harmony and to shun divisive forces.
The organisations are also conducting “awareness drives” among the public to sensitise them about the “danger of communal politics.”
The AIMIM and the BJP, however, allege that the ruling Trinamool Congress is behind the campaign. AIMIM leader from minority-dominated Murshidabad district, Asadul Sheikh, claimed that some Imams at the behest of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee were doing such campaign. “Such campaign will not help,” he said.
BJP leader Gouri Sankar Ghosh said some clerics who were getting benefits from the chief minister were doing such campaign for the ruling TMC. “The real apolitical Imams are not involved in such campaign,” he said.
Refuting the charges, All Bengal District Imam Association general secretary Nizamuddin Biswas said they were only trying to create awareness against communal forces and were not asking people to vote for any political party.
The clerics though are avoiding taking name of any political party, their campaign assumes political significance considering that the rise of Hindu supremacist BJP in the state is also creating political space for the right-wing Muslim outfits such as the AIMIM.
“The AIMIM has able to make inroads in several districts of the state and it may take away a sizeable portion of Muslim votes from the TMC if it puts up candidates in the next year’s assembly elections,” said Israul Mondal of Bengal Madrasah Education Forum.
A 25-member delegation from West Bengal met AIMIM’s chief Asaduddin Owaisi in Hyderabad on December 13. Though the AIMIM’s state leaders are not disclosing their strategy for West Bengal, sources said the party is planning to put up candidates in 70-minority dominated assembly constituencies.
Muslims are sizeable electorates in West Bengal. According to a survey of the Pratichi Institute, 46 of the state’s 294 Assembly constituencies have a Muslim concentration of more than 50 per cent. In 16 other seats, Muslims comprise 40-50 per cent of the electorates. In 33 seats, the concentration of Muslim population is about 30-40 per cent. In another 50 seats, there are 20-30 per cent Muslim voters, according to the survey.
While the ruling TMC is eyeing the majority of these seats, its main challenger, the BJP, is hoping for a split in the TMC’s minority vote base.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in Bengal, a whopping 70 per cent Muslims voted for the TMC, while 12 per cent voted for the Congress, 10 per cent for the Left and four per cent for the BJP.
It was the minority votes that helped the TMC to win more Lok Sabha seats than the BJP which had cornered 54 per cent of the state’s Hindu votes. The TMC bagged 22 seats securing an overall 43.69 per cent votes while the BJP got 18 seats with 40.64 per cent votes.
A slightest away swing of its minority votes could be troublesome for the TMC and a windfall for the BJP. It was from this concern that Mamata Banerjee is repeatedly making veiled attack on the AIMIM in her public rallies.
“The BJP is importing a party from Hyderabad to divide minority votes. This party is on the BJP’s payroll. Remember what happened in Bihar. Be alert,” Mamata told a meeting in Jalpaiguri this week.
The Muslim clerics too are apparently sharing her concern, though not necessarily at her behest.