New Twist To Muslim Factor In Bengal Elections
The latest act of floating a political outfit Indian Secular Front (ISF) by the maverick Islamic cleric of Bengal Peerzada Abbas Siddiqui and his assertion that “it is not my job to worry about the TMC poll prospects” is certainly a jolt for Mamata Banerjee who is squeezed between the desertions from her party and Hindu assertion of BJP. The timing of Abbas Siddiqui’s political entry and also the circumstances under which he suddenly made announcement of a new party has further complicated the not only the political scene of Bengal but also the discussion around the Muslim vote and its impact on the electoral outcome.
There are two more interesting statements which came from Abbas Siddiqui and there is lot to read between the lines of those statements. First it relates to his talks, with the Left-Congress alliance for seat adjustments, which are underway and his optimism about the outcome of those talks. Who will be the loser if he takes away his Muslim votes towards Left-Congress alliance? Without doubt it is TMC which will be hit. Then his other statement regarding his refusal to brand BJP as communal party, thus, gave the suspicion that he may helping BJP. The cleric’s answer to the need for another Muslim party and its likely split of the Muslim vote is stunning for all those who are in the electoral arena and even for the poll analysts. He questioned the long term narrative of Muslims supporting one particular party en masse. “Why do you impose ‘sheepish mentality’ on Muslims and consider their vote to be foregone conclusion to any particular party” was his question. Abbas Siddiqui’s defense on the need for another party for Muslims was a counter question. “When Hindus had so many political parties why not Muslims have more than one party?” There is no logical answer for that from secular parties.
This is the newest narration of Bengal political scene which is confusing the established views on Muslim vote. Now new questions are coming on Muslim vote consolidation as well as division and discussion on the beneficiaries of the split by AIMIM and ISF lead by Asaduddin Owaisi and Abbasi Siddiqui respectively. Bengal with about 34% of Muslim population is next to Jammu Kashmir and Assam. This is not new however the Muslim issue was not discussed this seriously in earlier elections, since all those years the elections were almost one sided. Till 1977 it was Congress which dominated the elections and there after till 2011 it is Left all the way. Next two elections saw the emergence of TMC and capturing power. Till then Muslim votes were going to winners along with the votes of other communities. Post 2019 Lok Sabha elections the emergence of BJP as a strong political force the discussion of Hindu Muslim divide became as issue of discussion. Now in 2021 the BJP is a strong contender for power and suddenly Muslim factor became a serious issue for discussion.
With the boost received in Bihar elections the Hyderabad based AIMIM party is now flexing its political muscle to fight Bengal elections. His secret meeting with Islamic cleric Peerzada Abbas Siddiqui has not gone well with Mamata Banerjee. With her counter attack on AIMIM as BJP B team is a direct appeal to Muslim community in the state not to fell prey to Asaduddin Owaisi pro- Muslim speeches as it was happening in other states. She could successfully lure the AIMIM top Bengal functionary in to TMC, thus throwing a challenge to Owaisi and with aggressive statement of “Bengal Muslims are not gullible as other state Muslim to be swayed away by ‘migratory’ Muslim leader from South”. But the sudden emergence of ISF in the Bengal as a political outfit has added twist to the Muslim vote. As of now no one is sure whether it was a strategy of someone or it is Abbasi Siddiqui’s own volition. If ISF also contests besides AIMIM in the coming elections how the Muslim vote get divided and who is going to get the benefit of that division is what discussed now.
The Muslims influence is decisive in about 120 constituencies in the 294 seat assembly of Bengal. As per the statistics available, the Muslim vote share is 50% in about 41 seats while they form 30-35% in the remaining 80 other constituencies. So there is no way that Muslim votes are ignored and if Muslim votes goes en masse to any party that particular party is sure to be in power. Left or TMC rode to power on the Muslim votes is undeniable.
With the entry of BJP the demographical changes in Bengal became important political issue. The phenomenal growth of Muslim population in the districts which share border with Bangladesh is attributed to the illegal migration of Muslims, including the Rohingya Muslims from the neighboring countries. That such illegal migrations are allegedly happening with the connivance of the ruling party, either Left or the TMC. With a promise to be part of their vote bank of either Left or TMC, the illegal migrants are believed to have received all the needed identity cards, including voters ID and Adhar cards and social benefits from the state governments. As the numbers grew with the patronize of the ruling party community activists like Peerjada Abbas Siddiqui are trying to strengthen their identity politics.
This Sufi cleric is vocal in his opposition to CAA and is influential in North and South Paraganas districts accounting for 64 assembly constituencies where in 2016 elections Mamata Banerjee won a massive 56 seats. Going by this the entry of Abbas Siddiqui is sure to hit TMC. Even if Siddiqui takes his vote to Left-Congress combine Mamata Banerjee is going to suffer. If the talk of Muslim consolidation goes to a new pitch it may force the Hindu votes to gravitate towards BJP. How will the Muslims view the changing political situation and can they really go for strategic voting to defeat BJP candidates is not clear at this stage. However if the split in Muslim vote result in the hung assembly then it is advantage BJP, as it was shown elsewhere, that most of the newly elected MLAs are easily lured into BJP camp.
By Dr. Duggaraju Srinivasa Rao