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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 52, New Delhi, December 12, 2020

The Muslims would vote for Trinamool Congress in West Bengal Assembly Elections | Tarun Kumar Basu

AIMIM not a factor, BJP’s divisive policy not fruitful

Friday 11 December 2020, by Tarun Kumar Basu

Suvendu Adhikari, a heavy-weight TMC (Trinamool Congress)leader , known as a dissident, tendered his resignation as a cabinet minister recently. Not only Adhikari but also several TMC leaders raised their voice against the autocracy and nepotism of the top leaderlship of the party. A TMC MP and a renowned lawyer, Kalyan Bannerjee, called Adhikari a betrayer without naming him. Banerjee portrayed the Chief Minister of Bengal as a symbol of " Andolan" or mass movement who had brought an end to the 34-year misrule of the Left Front Government.

The TMC supremo and the party were aware that Mr. Adhikari’s supporters had formed a parallel organization in Midnapore district named " Amra Dadar Anugami" (We are the followers of our elder brother). They intensified their activities soon after Adhikari tendered his resignation from the State cabinet. Party insiders indicated that the political undercurrent in west Bengal may be pushing him to seek his fortunes outside the TMC. Not only Adhikari, there are so many MLAs and leaders who may follow suit and test their fortune elsewhere.

The main allegations of the leaders who left TMC are that the activities of pole strategist Prashant Kishore are harming the party. Mamata Banerjee held a meeting with the newly formed steering committee of the party and instructed her leaders of all the 23 districts to focus on the Centre’s neglect of Bengal and emphasize on the developments of projects taken up by the state government. The government has spent Rs 4000 crore to control Covid-19 but the centre has given only Rs. 400 crore, said TMC Rajya Sabha MP, Dereck ’O Brien. The Centre has denied the state’s legitimate dues of Rs. 6500 crore on relief and rebuilding the infrastructure devastated by cyclone " Amphan".

The party was highlighting the programme of "Didi Ke Balo" ( Tell Didi for any problem) which is said to be the brainchild of TMC’s election strategist Prashant Kishore, but which became very popular and evoked a huge response. Again from 1 December, TMC government started a programme for reaching the people named "Duare Sarkar" (Government at your doorstep) in four phases till 31 January at the gram panchayat and municipal word levels for delivery of service under ten government projects.

After the nail-biting Bihar assembly elections in 2020 and the unexpected victory of the AIMIM in five seats , the political observers believe that the Bihar election results might impact the West Bengal Assembly elections next year, by taking away a large chunk of Muslim vote by Asaduddin Owaisi’s party. The AIMIM is eyeing muslim-majority districts such as Maldah, Murshidabad and North Dinajpur where Muslims constitute 50 per cent of the electorate. According to the 2011 Census, the highest number of Muslims hail from West Bengal after Jammu and Kashmir and Assam. The state has 27.1 percent Muslims. The Birbhum, Nadia and South 24 parganas districts are minority-concentrated ones where all the political parties are eying for the Muslim vote.

The CPIM and the Congress fought together the last Lok Sabha elections in almost all seats and got more than 35% of total votes, but without an alliance with the Congress the CPIM got only 14% votes in the last Lok Sabha election in 2019. The Congress high command took special note of the parties declining vote share in Bengal which was down to 6.29 per cent in 2019, whereas the BJP got 40 percent and Trinamool Congress got 43 percent. Congress supremo Sonia Gandhi approved the alliance with the CPI-M in West Bengal. Rahul Gandhi held a virtual meeting with the Chief of Pradesh Congress Committee. Adhir Chowdhury and other senior leaders and asked them to go all out in the election fray. But it will be a stupendous job for both the parties, because they have no common and presentable face as their leader. The BJP will be the main challenger in the Bengal Assembly elections in 2021, in the present situation. The percentage of vote may increase if the Congress-CPI-M alliance fields competent candidates and conducts an aggressive campaign.

The state leaders of BJP echoed the same voice with Union Minister Amit Shah that Citizenship Amendment Bill Act would be applied in West Bengal soon to separate Bangladeshis and Rohingyas from the genuine voters of this state. But the implementation of this will be very difficult in Bengal. In 2018, West Bengal was one of the epicentres of anti-NRC and anti-CAA movement, which rattled the BJP.

It has been observed that minority populated pockets have played a determining role in the electoral outcome in West Bengal. Almost 90 to 100 assembly seats, where the Muslim population is more than 30 percent, is always a game-changer in forming the government, The TMC is expected to poll heavily in these areas.

Muslims were not aware of their actual state of deprivation before the Sachar Committee Report in November 2006. The Muslim community blamed the Left Front government and Congress too, for ignoring their development in Bengal. Mamata Banerjee grabbed this opportunity and went all out to influence Muslims of Bengal with the cooperation of Siddiqullah Chowdhury and Toha Siddiqui who helped her in 2011 and 2016 assembly elections when the Trinamool Congress bagged 184 and 211 seats ,out of 294 assembly seats. Mamata Banerjee and her consultants working at the grass-roots level are trying to ascertain the extent of disillusionment in the people of the state at and trying to intervene wherever necessary.

After grabbing five seats in Bihar assembly, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi announced that his party would field candidates in the forthcoming Bengal assembly elections in 2021. But experts say that AIMIM’s journey in the turf of Bengal is not as easy as in Bihar. Owaisi’s influence was limited to Hindi and Urdu speaking voters that might have helped him in Bihar, but West Bengal has 24 percent Bengali -speaking Muslims and only 6 percent Hindi-speaking Muslims. TMC, which had been the sole beneficiary of minority votes since 2011, is trying to hold on to this percentage intact.

The Trinamool supremo chalked out a blueprint to make a balance of both Hindu and Muslim votes. She started breaking the "vote-cutter" AIMIM party by winning over their popular leader Anwar Pasha,who has been a face of the party since 2013, to join the TMC. The party is acting according to the guidance of pole-strategist Prashant Kishore and his team IPAC which have collelclted , with meticulous detail, all election-related data.

Though a little bit of despair has crept in the Muslim community, the TMC has started removing the causes of their disappointment. The BJP is known for resorting to nationalist rhetoric in all the elections in India, but TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee plays the card of regionalism which was once the policy made by the Chief Minister of Bihar. Nitish Kumar in 2014. He coined a catchy slogan "Bihari versus Bahari" at that time and it made him immensely popular. Mamata Banerjee has already started bantering the BJP using the word "Outsider" in different public meetings. It may well be the war cry in the campaign for the forthcoming assembly election. BJP has set up a committee for the next election in Bengal where the national leaders are ordering about their Bengal workers. The TMC has taken up the issue and blazing all guns at the saffron party on this count. Mamata Banerjee hinted at the Bengali culture, language and tradition which characterize the Bengalis. On the other hand BJP is keen to fight the next assembly election on their mainstay Hindutva.

TMC is also using in full measure the crowd -pulling power and the unparalleled popularity of Mamata Banerjee. BJP doesn’t have a face to match her and all their leaders are harbouring the dream of being the Chief Minister if BJP comes into power. There are many factions in the Bengal BJP that may be "Ashani Sanket" (ill-tidings) for them in 2021 assembly election. The central leaders of BJP do not trust the Bengal leaders from the TMC turncoat Mukul Roy to state chief Dilip Ghosh, who announced that if BJP comes to power, it would replicate the "Gujarat growth model" in Bengal for development. The saffron party has sent five central leaders to supervise five zones in West Bengal. The Bengal brigade is totally dependent on the decision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Minister Amit Shah. The critics of the BJP call it a two-leader party.

Now the equation of the present politics in Bengal has become intricate. The CPI-M-Congress alliance is ready to enter the poll field with issues like corruption and alleged failure at all levels of the state government. BJP will play the cards of Hindutwa. But TMC supremo has an edge over all others.

(Tarun Kumar Basu is a free-lance journalist based in Hooghly, West Bengal)

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