All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM or MIM) president Asaduddin Owaisi has proposed pre-poll pact in West Bengal to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, saying his party will help Trinamool Congress (TMC) defeat the BJP in the upcoming state assembly election.
Emboldened by MIM’s win in five seats in the Seemanchal region of Bihar, a confident Owaisi announced that his party would contest in the Bengal assembly poll.
Owaisi’s statement follows Banerjee’s veiled attack where she said that ‘some outsiders’ would “harass and terrorise people” and urged the people of the state to “resist the outsiders”. But then, Mamata is used to referring to the BJP as “outsiders” too; so, one cannot tell this remark was about the MIM.
Speaking to media, TMC MP Saugata Roy claimed that MIM had been set up by the BJP to reduce the vote share of TMC while Indian National Congress (INC) leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said that Owaisi’s party would aim at further polarising society. “But the state of West Bengal has been rejecting the politics of polarisation and communalism since independence,” he said.
Chowdhury had earlier called AIMIM nothing but the “B-team of the BJP”, whose sole aim is to divide the Muslim votes and cause damage to the secular parties.
Alarmed by the entry of AIMIM in Bengal, the CPI (M) and the INC, which has decided to fight the next assembly poll as alliance partners, held a two-hour-long meeting in the night of 17 November to determine the strategy for the next assembly polls.
Both the parties are planning an outreach programme where they will reach out to leaders and eminent personalities of the minority community. They have decided further to conduct a special outreach programme on the National Minorities Day on 18 December.
The MIM is eyeing minority-dominated districts Malda, Murshidabad and North Dinajpur. Howrah has a sizeable Muslim population too.
Muslim votes are a determining factor in elections in West Bengal as Hindus were the minority, comprising just 32% of the population including in areas that are now with Bangladesh, in the undivided state. Due to an erroneous demarcation between East Pakistan and the rest of undivided India, some Muslim-dominated districts (three have been named above) fell on India’s lap while Hindu-majority Khulna and Sylhet went to East Pakistan.
In the 2016 assembly poll, the INC-CPI(M) alliance had won 34 out of the 76 seats from these districts.
According to Owaisi, the social and economic condition of Muslims living in Bengal is “worse than many places in the country”. He holds that the community has almost been alienated under Banerjee’s government. “I have empirical evidence to prove that. And I have statistics to say this,” he said.
Owaisi described the BJP’s 18-seat haul in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as a failure of the “so-called secular forces in the state… in protecting the interests of minorities in Bengal”.
“We have seen how polarised an election it was in 2019. Mausam Noor (TMC candidate) losing in Malda is an eye-opener,” he said. “Malda and Murshidabad, parts of north and south Bengal, have a considerable Muslim population. Muslims dominate many of these assembly segments. And, they are looking for an alternative force,” Owaisi said.