KOLKATA: Hoping to break the party's anti-minority image with their messaging, the BJP's two Muslim candidates say their outreach was not based on the triple talaq poll plank but on issues such as domestic violence and the need to educate women in the community.
Humayun Kabir, contesting from the Murshidabad Lok Sabha seat, and Mafuja Khatun, who is fighting from Jangipur, are the party's only two Muslim candidates in its list of 42 for the state.
While Kabir is a former Trinamool Congress minister, Mafuja is a two-time CPI(M) legislator.
Both Jangipur and Murshidabad are voting on Tuesday in the third round of the seven-phase election.
The BJP made triple talaq one of its major poll planks in this election but Kabir and Mafuja said they were not keen on highlighting the issue as it may not have yielded results.
Basic issues such as the need to empower Muslim women and end domestic violence will be more effective in mobilising votes of the community which forms nearly 30 per cent of West Bengal's population, they said.
The issue of the triple talaq bill was not highlighted in my campaign as the impact of the custom of instant triple talaq is not equal across the country. In Bengal, the victims of triple talaq are fewer compared to other parts of the country. The issue will not find resonance in Bengal," Mafuja told PTI.
The Jangipur Lok Sabha seat, from where she is contesting, has 58 per cent Muslim voters.
I stressed on local issues such as basic amenities and the plight of beedi workers and employment generation of youth and erosion of the banks of river Ganga, which has rendered thousands of people homeless, she said.
"We are also highlighting the need to end domestic violence that several women face in their homes and need for social and educational upliftment of Muslim women," she said.
In its recently released manifesto, the BJP, which failed to legislate the triple talaq bill in Parliament due to stiff resistance by the opposition, pledged to eliminate the practices of instant divorce and nikah halala if re-elected to power.
While triple talaq is the practice of a husband instantly divorcing his wife by saying talaq thrice, under nikah-halala a man cannot remarry his former wife without her having to go through the process of marrying someone else, consummating it, getting divorced and observing a separation period before coming back to him.
Several top BJP leaders claimed the Modi government's efforts to pass the triple talaq bill will yield dividends.
But Mafuja and Kabir differed with their view.
If Mafuja felt the issue had minimal impact in Jangipur, Kabir said several other more important local issues need to be highlighted to reach out to the masses.
"Triple talaq will not find resonance as minorities are divided on this issue. So there is no need to increase their confusion. Rather, we campaigned about the development of the Lok Sabha constituency, including proper education of the girl child in Muslim households," Kabir said.
Both the candidates said they had not received any negative feedback about representing the BJP. The opposition projected the BJP as a party of Hindus and they would work towards removing that stigma.
The Muslims in my constituency have welcomed me with warmth and affection. I am confident of getting their support. I am confident that I would be able to remove this so called label of anti-Muslim party," Mafuja, who joined the BJP in 2017, said.
What have so called secular political parties such as the Congress, the Left and the TMC done for minorities in last 70 years except using them as vote bank, she asked,
According to Kabir, the BJP's anti-Muslim image has been built by political opponents to serve their own political interests and there has been no discrimination.
"I have been in both TMC and Congress. I have seen how these two parties work. The BJP is the only party where there is no discrimination on the basis of religion. It's only your capability that matters unlike other parties where caste and religion are deciding factors," Kabir said.
In his two-decade career, Kabir has been associated with the Congress, the TMC as well as the Samajwadi Party. He switched to the BJP last year.
The Murshidabad Lok Sabha seat has more than 50 percent Muslim population.
The minorities are a deciding factor in nearly 12-15 Lok Sabha seats of the state.