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Is Owaisi a ‘Bohiragato (outsider)’ in Bengal politics?

by panchali

Nirmalya Mukherjee

AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi and his party are facing their biggest challenge in West Bengal 2021 polls. Owaisi’s party AIMIM is expected to contest 45-55 seats in the 294-member state assembly polls of 2021. However, there is no consensus within Muslim clerics, Imams and even state AIMIM leaders on which party should the Muslims vote for in the ensuing polls.

The question being asked `is Owaisi a Bohiragato or outsider to Bengal’s Muslims?

Bengal is expected to witness a seven phase polls between April and May 2021. There are 78,000 polling booths in the state. The Election Commission has proposed to increase it by 28,000 to 1.06 lakh booths.

Abbas Siddique, an influential Muslim cleric from Furufura Sharif of Hooghly district has indicated on floating a new party to contest the polls. Until now, it has remained vague. Only a week ago Owaisi met him seeking support for AIMIM in Bengal polls. Owaisi had urged the Muslims of Bengal to follow Siddique’s instructions. Owaisi is considered as one among the 500 most influential leaders of the world. He is an MP from Hyderabad.

Meanwhile, S K Abdul Kalam the acting president of AIMIM’s Bengal unit has officially joined TMC with several members. The Head of the Bengal Imam Association Mohammad Yahya has appealed to Muslims not to vote for Owaisi or AIMIM as it means voting for BJP. Yet another Muslim cleric Qari Fazlur Rahman feels that Muslims are free to vote and should not be forced or targeted on religious grounds. Muslim leaders and clerics are afraid that Owaisi might trigger radical minority formations in the state.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has dubbed Owaisi and AIMIM as BJP’s agent and B-team. BJP maintains a cautious distance from AIMIM and feels that they will win West Bengal polls on their own strength and support. BJP had secured only 11 per cent of the state’s Muslim votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. BJP is focusing on Hindu consolidation by targetting the higher and the sub-alterns within the community like the Matuas. The party is making desperate attempts to stop a split in Hindu votes.

As per 2011 census the Muslim population of Bengal is 27.01 per cent. By conservative estimates, at present it might be over 30 per cent.
Traditionally TMC, CPM and Congress are the biggest beneficiaries of state’s 24 per cent Bengali speaking Muslim votes. Therefore, Owaisi might be targetting the 6 per cent Urdu and Hindi speaking Muslim votes. If AIMIM could register a split in the votes, BJP will be the biggest beneficiary.

In 2019 Lok Sabha polls BJP secured 40 per cent votes against TMC’s 45 per cent. BJP eroded CPM and Congress votes by pushing it down from 27 per cent to 7 per cent and 12 per cent to 5 per cent respectively. As a Mamata ally in the 1998 Lok Sabha elections BJP secured only 4 per cent votes. In two-decades BJP’s vote share has gone up by almost 36 per cent, mostly by cutting into Left and Congress votes. In 2019 lok sabha polls TMC was ahead in 164 assembly segments as against 121 of BJP.

Owaisi recently achieved marginal success in the Bihar elections by winning 5 seats from Seemanchal area bordering West Bengal. AIMIM had contested 21 seats. Calculations suggest that JD-U and BJP led NDA would have won the elections even without AIMIM support. Therefore, BJP leaders of Bengal are unwilling to recognize AIMIM’s big presence in the state elections considering it as a hype.

Political observers feel it could also be BJP’s election strategy to keep safe distance from AIMIM. While Mamata wants to club AIMIM with BJP and secure Muslim votes, BJP would like to stay away as supporting or opposing AIMIM will consolidate Muslim votes against BJP. Consolidating Muslim votes is a key factor to win Bengal elections. In 2011 CPM lost to Mamata as majority of Muslim votes swung to TMC.

In Bengal there are around 120 seats those are Muslim dominated. The maximum consolidation is in districts – Murshidabad (66.28%) Malda (51.27%), North Dinajpur (49.92%), Birbhum (37.06%), South 24 Parganas (35.5%) and South Dinajpur (24.63%). Kolkata has 22 per cent Muslim population. Around 60 seats are heavily Muslim dominated.

This news article is prepared or accomplished by Nirmalya Mukherjee in his personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of kolkatatoday.com

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