Already hammered with the growing popularity of BJP in Bengal, the TMC now faces an AIMIM in the upcoming assembly election. Although the Trinamool leadership has denied the wholly Muslim party would pose a challenge, Asaddudin Owaisi’s visit to the state on 3 January could trigger the beginning of an erosion of the support the ruling party has largely enjoyed from the not-so-minority community. Moreover, the facts from ground zero raise serious doubts about the TMC’s show of confidence.
Upon arriving in West Bengal, Owaisi went first to Furfura Sharif, a prominent religious shrine of Bengali Muslims, in District Hooghly, and then had a meeting with Abbas Siddique, Peerzada and Secretary of Furfura Sharif. The meeting revolved mainly around Bengal’s political scenario and upcoming assembly election in the state.
Siddique, an influential Muslim cleric and popular leader of the community, has been in news of late for criticising the ruling party openly on several issues. Known for his grassroot connect and stronghold on the Muslim populace of southern Bengal, the Peerzada was to officially float his own political party in December 2020.
The plight of the Indian Muslims of Bengal and their dissatisfaction with TMC is now out in the open. It has been a major grievance of the Indian Muslims of the state that the TMC has snatched away their share of benefits and given it out to the Bangladeshi Muslim infiltrators and Rohingya Muslims to strengthen its Muslim vote bank. This has taken the Indian Muslims of Bengal for granted. Besides, they claim that the TMC did nothing so far for the overall development, amelioration and uplift of the Indian Muslims of Bengal in spite of their incessant support to the party till 2019.
Siddique, who has held over thousand rallies in the last six months, has more or less become the mouthpiece of the Indian Muslims of West Bengal. Muslims, especially the youth of southern Bengal, see a counter to the BJP (Narendra Modi-Amit Shah) in him. The grievance and dissatisfaction of the Indian Muslims with the TMC reflects in his statements, especially when he talks about the unfulfilled promises such as opening of new madrassas, providing jobs, health care facilities, basic amenities, proper connectivity, making Furfura Sharif an international pilgrim destination etc. The Peerzada has gone to the extent of saying that the stipend announced for the imams by the TMC sounded like it came from the government whereas it came from the income of their own waqf properties’ income.
Siddique, who, as stated earlier, already has a grip over the local Muslim populace, plans to strengthen support in Murshidabad, Malda, Uttar Dinajpur, some areas of northern Bengal and the bordering areas of Jharkhand.
Owaisi’s ambition is to create a national political party, which, according to the rules of the Election Commission, is possible only after it gets at least 6% of the votes polled in at least four state assembly elections. After the surprising win of five seats in the bordering state of Bihar, West Bengal, with 30% of Muslim populace, undoubtedly serves as a fertile ground for Owaisi’s expansion plans. The AIMIM entry in the Bengal politics is well calculated, given the fact that the Indian Muslims of Bengal are, in general, dissatisfied with the present ruling party for not fulfilling the promises made to them.
Although the Peerzada has claimed that, apart from the AIMIM, he is in talks with the INC as well as the CPM, as they need at least 10-20% of the Hindu votes and form a strong alliance to defeat the TMC, the AIMIM still remains the best ally as its supremo has kind of surrendered before the Peerzada and left it entirely on him to decide on the shape and form of their alliance, unlike the INC and CPM. In this kind of a pitched political battle, the statements of members of the ruling party that the entry of the AIMIM would not have any impact on TMC does not hold water. However, if the AIMIM’s entry benefits the BJP in the process, the TMC should consider it as collateral damage rather than calling the AIMIM “BJP’s B team”. The BJP can in no way be blamed either for the non-performance against the commitments of TMC to the Indian Muslims of the state nor for the expansion plans of AIMIM, especially when the TMC itself has such plans. In the process of turning itself AITC, they too have contested elections in the neighbouring as well as the far off states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Assam, Tripura, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Now that the war has been declared, the magnitude of harm that the AIMIM is going to cause to the other political parties remains an open question.