KOLKATA: Allaying concerns that the wildcard entry of Abbas Siddiqui's ISF may deal a blow to the TMC's vote bank, Islamist leaders have asserted that a large section of the minority community would cast votes in favour of the party, as "there happens to be no other force capable of stopping BJP's juggernaut" in Bengal.
They, however, admitted that the Indian Secular Front (ISF), which has stitched an alliance with the Congress and the Left Front, might hold sway in certain pockets of West Bengal, as the rise of identity politics seems to have angered many residents of the state.
"It is true that the minorities hold grievances against the state government for some reasons. But most of them would still vote for the TMC. They are not willing to experiment with choices as that could put their safety at risk," Mohammed Kamruzzaman, the general secretary of All Bengal Minority Youth Federation, said here on Sunday.
Barring a few areas, where the BJP has not been able to establish its presence, members of the minority community would not take any chance, he said.
Minorities in Bengal have drawn lessons from the Bihar polls, where Asaduddin Owaisi's AIMIM, having eaten into Muslim votes in several seats, emerged as one of the prime reasons behind the defeat of the RJD-led Grand alliance, Kamruzzaman, whose organization wields considerable influence on Muslim youth in the state, pointed out.
Echoing him, political analyst Biswanath Chakraborty said "minorities continue to be loyal supporters of the TMC.
"In just about eight to ten seats in south Bengal, and a few in north Bengal, the TMC may be up for a direct contest with the ISF.
Other than that, Muslims will vote en masse for the Mamata Banerjee-led party".
Several other imams, revered by the Muslim population in the state, also stressed that minorities should ensure that they exercise their franchise in favour of the "strongest secular candidate".
"In most places, the TMC happens to be the only secular and credible force.
Notwithstanding their grievances, Muslims should think of the bigger picture.
Efforts should be made to ensure that minority votes do not get divided," Qazi Fazlur Rahman, who conducts prayer sessions on Eid at Red Road here, told PTI.
Rahaman further said that imams at various mosques of the state have urged the faithful to vote for either the Mamata Banerjee camp or the strongest secular candidate in their respective areas.
The ruling TMC, on its part, iterated that the ISF was nothing but a "B-team" of the BJP.
"Parties like the ISF are no different from the AIMIM, both B-teams of the BJP.
They might cause damage in a few seats, but Muslims are largely with us," senior TMC leader Sougata Roy said.
Siddiqui, who had on several occasions in the past rejected the TMC's assertion, said the ruling party in the state has done more harm than good by making way for communal politics in the state.
"It is TMC that has created an atmosphere of fear and paved for communal politics, with an eye on minority votes.
It should be taught a lesson for its sins," he told PTI.
Siddiqui's views were echoed by alliance partner CPI (M), which claimed that the Left Front never had to appease a specific community during its three-decade-long rule, unlike the TMC "which wanted to take a short cut to win the polls, after having done nothing for the development of Muslims".
The minorities, which comprise nearly 30 per cent of the state's electorate, are a deciding factor in nearly 100 out of the 294 assembly seats of the state.
The BJP, which has failed to breach the TMC's minority strongholds, has been hoping that the ISF would be able to split Muslim votes, giving them an advantage.
Since Independence, minorities in the state have voted in favour of the Congress to keep outfits such as the Hindu Mahasabha and the Jan Sangh at bay.
During the late sixties, however, they gradually started drifting towards the Left forces, which cemented its base among minorities with 'Operation Barga' -- a land-reform movement that benefited lakhs of sharecroppers.
Things fell apart for the Left Front after the Sachar Committee report in 2008 painted a dismal picture of the living conditions of minorities.
Add to that, the anti-land acquisition movement in Nandigram and Singur projected the TMC, led by Mamata Banerjee, as their new "saviour".
The Mamata Banerjee camp had been the sole beneficiary of minority votes since the Left Front's exit in 2011, as Muslims have voted en bloc for the TMC, but its failure to control communal riots over the last six years did not go down well with a section of the community.
According to the data released by the Union home ministry in 2018, religious violence has increased sharply in Bengal since 2015.
The state had recorded 27 incidents of communal clashes in 2015, which went up to as many as 58 in 2017.
That said, the absence of another strong political force that can take on the BJP, with talks of AIMIM-ISF alliance having hit the wall, will help the TMC pocket minority votes to a large extent.
The Hyderabad-based All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) has decided to field candidates from just 13 seats in Murshidabad district, a Congress stronghold.
The BJP, which has made "TMC's appeasement politics" as one of its poll planks, has contended that the party, if voted to power, would stop such practices.
"We do not believe in politics of appeasement.
All communities should be treated equally," BJP state president Dilip Ghosh said.
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