The rise of Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) in Bihar is a bad news for the ruling Trinamool Congress in West Bengal ahead of next year’s Assembly elections.
The AIMIM won five seats after fielding candidates in 14 in the election to the 243-member Bihar Assembly. All the five seats are in the Muslim-dominated Seemanchal region that shares border with West Bengal’s minority dominated districts of North Dinajpur and Malda.
Apart from winning these five seats, the AIMIM also allegedly dented the poll prospects of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)-Congress combination by cutting into their minority votes in this Muslim-dominated region that has 24 seats.
Earlier, the party had similarly eroded the vote base of non-BJP parties in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, earning it the slur of a ‘vote-cutter’ party and the ‘B’ team of the BJP.
Buoyed by its success in Bihar, the AIMIM is now targeting Bengal for its turf expansion. The AIMIM chief Owaisi on Wednesday (November 11) announced that his party would put up candidates in the state’s Muslim-dominated districts of North Dinajpur, Malda and Murshidabad.
North Dinajpur has nine Assembly seats, Malda 12 and Murshidabad has 22.
The local AIMIM leaders say they will also put up candidates in constituencies that have sizeable minority population in the other districts, too.
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.
The findings underscore the importance of Muslim votes in Bengal politics.
The shift in minority votes from the CPI (M)-led Left Front to the Trinamool Congress played an important role in ending the 34 years of Communist Rule in Bengal in 2011. Since then, minorities have been backing the TMC.
The Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), in its survey of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in Bengal, found that 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.
The TMC ended up winning more seats than the BJP only because a large majority of the Muslims voted for it. The BJP had managed to corner 57 per cent of the Hindu votes in last year’s Lok Sabha elections in the state.
The TMC had ultimately won 22 seats obtaining 43.69 per cent votes while the BJP got 18 seats with 40.64 per cent votes, just about three per cent less than what the TMC polled.
“If we take into consideration the voting pattern for the Lok Sabha elections, then a marginal 2-3 per cent shift away from the TMC’s minority votes could prove costly for the party in the Assembly elections due in April-May. And there lies the importance of the Owaisi factor,” said political analyst and commentator Subir Bhaumik.
Further, Bhaumik said, Owaisi’s hardline rhetoric would further help consolidate the Hindu vote in favour of the BJP.
The TMC, however, put up a brave face claiming that the Owaisi’s AIMIM will not be a factor in West Bengal. “A section of Urdu-speaking Muslims backs the AIMIM. Bengali-speaking Muslim will not vote for this Hyderabad-based party,” said TMC MP Kalyan Banerjee.
The uneasiness within the ruling party in the state over the AIMIM was evident when chief minister Mamata Banerjee launched a scathing attack on it last year, just after it first hinted at its plan to make a foray into Bengal’s electoral politics.
“There are some extremist elements among the minorities just as there are Hindu extremists. You have to be alert against these forces. I am talking about a political party that takes money from the BJP. This party is from Hyderabad and not from West Bengal,” Banerjee had told a rally in Cooch Behar in November last year.
For the last one year, the AIMIM has set up its organisations in North and South Dinajpur, Cooch Behar, Malda, Murshidabad and North South Parganas.
“It is wrong to dub us a Muslim party. We work not just for the empowerment of the Muslims but for the Dalits and tribals, too,” said the party’s Bengal head Jamirul Hassan, exuding confidence that his party would have a “grand entry” into Bengal next year.