Imams launch awakening campaign to prevent division of Muslim vote in West Bengal

By Abdul Bari Masoud

In the event the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) makes entry into the West Bengal electoral politics,  a group of  Ulema and Imams has  expressed concern that it may cause division of Muslim votes in the forthcoming assembly elections as the BJP is not leaving any stone unturned to capture power in the state. Sensing this danger, they have launched an awakening campaign against communal political forces in the state.

Recently, the Imams of north Bengal districts of Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Coochbehar, North Dinajpur, South Dinajpur and Malda gathered  at a guest house  in Islampur in North Dinajpur district to discuss about  the rise of “divisive politics” and chalked out a strategy to prevent the split of  Muslim votes in the ensuing assembly elections due in April-May next year. At the meeting they decided to make people sensitive about the pitfalls of communal politics.

In the earlier this month, a similar meeting of Imams of a few other Muslim-dominated districts was held in Berhampore in Mursidabad district. It also reportedly discussed the role of the Imams in preventing the spread of communal culture.

Jamiat-e Ulema-e Bangla also convened a meeting in Dankuni near Kolkata on November 13, to strengthen communal harmony and to shun divisive forces.

These organizations are also conducting “awareness drives” among the public to sensitise them about the “danger of communal politics.”

The AIMIM and the BJP, however, allege that the ruling party is behind the campaign. AIMIM leader from Murshidabad, Asadul Sheikh, claimed that some Imams at the behest of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee were doing such a campaign. “Such campaign will not help,” he said.

BJP leader Gouri Sankar Ghosh alleged that some imams who were getting benefits from the chief minister were doing such a campaign for the ruling TMC and added that, “The real apolitical Imams are not involved in such campaigns.”

Rebutting these charges, All Bengal District Imam Association general secretary, Nizamuddin Biswas said they were only trying to create awareness against communal forces and were not asking people to vote for any political party.

Muslim share in the total population of the state is significant that is about 30 percent.  And in at least 150 out of 294 state assembly constituencies, Muslim votes range over 50 to 20 percent which makes them as kingmaker in the first-past-post electoral system.  Despite being in huge numbers, political deprivation of Muslims in the state is palpable as both the present ruling party Trinamool Congress (TMC) and its predecessor Left Front did not do justice with the minority community during their long rule.

Sensing this factor, the AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi is now eyeing   West Bengal to expand his political turf who is buoyed by the success in neighbouring Bihar in the recently held assembly election. AIMIM won all the five seats from the Muslim-dominated Seemanchal region which shares border with West Bengal’s Muslim dominated North Dinajpur and Malda districts.

A day after the Bihar assembly results were announced on November 10, Owaisi had hinted   that AIMIM would put up candidates in the Muslim-dominated districts North Dinajpur, Malda and Murshidabad of West Bengal.

It is a well known fact that Muslims are a formidable electoral force in the state. Kolkata-based Pratichi Institute has mapped the Muslim votes in the state.  According to its findings, in 46 assembly seats Muslim votes are more than 50 per cent while in 16 other seats, they account 40-50 per cent and account about 30-40 per cent in another 33 seats.  While in another 50 seats, their votes are 20-30 per cent and in the rest of 150 seats they are not less than 10 per cent.

Muslim votes played critical role in dislodging the Left Front from the power– which had ruled the state for seven consecutive terms 1977–2011- and bringing to TMC to power.  BJP is hoping that AIMIM’s possible entry into the state may split the TMC’s minority vote base.

It is for this reason, Imams have launched campaign in Muslim-dominated districts of the state.  They are not taking the name of any political party, but their campaign assumes political significance considering the rise of Hindu supremacist BJP in the state.

Speaking to Muslim Mirror,  Israul Mondal, a functionary of Bengal Madrasah Education Forum, warned that if  AIMIM  makes  electoral forays in Wes Bengal,it may take away a sizeable portion of Muslim votes from the ruling  TMC.

In the 2019 general elections,   a massive 70 per cent Muslims voted for the TMC, while 12 per cent voted for the Congress, 10 per cent for the Left in the state. It was the Muslim votes that helped the TMC to win more parliamentary seats than the BJP which had cornered 54 per cent of the state’s Hindu votes. The TMC bagged 22 seats securing an overall 43.69 per cent votes while the BJP got 18 seats with 40.64 per cent votes. Political observers feel that a slightest away swing of its Muslim votes could upset the CM Mamata Banerjee’s apple cart. That’s why she is repeatedly making veiled attacks on the AIMIM in her public rallies.

Former BBC journalist Subir Bhaumik said Owaisi’s ‘hard-line’ rhetoric would further help consolidate the Hindu vote in favour of the BJP.

The Imams and religious leaders too are apparently sharing Banerjee’s concern, though not necessarily at her behest.

As far as West Bengal AIMIM unit is concerned, it is playing its cards to its chest.  A delegation of state leaders met Owaisi in Hyderabad on December 13 but they did not disclose what had transpired during the meeting.  It is said that AIMIM may put up candidates in 70- Muslim dominated assembly seats.

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