Minorities likely to support TMC in Bengal during LS Polls

According to minority leaders, Muslims in West Bengal, pivotal in several Lok Sabha seats, are inclined towards the Mamata Banerjee-led party, which they see as a credible force, unlike the Left-Congress alliance.
Representative Image: TMC supporters celebrate the party's lead during counting of votes for the West Bengal panchayat polls, in Howrah. (Photo | PTI)
Representative Image: TMC supporters celebrate the party's lead during counting of votes for the West Bengal panchayat polls, in Howrah. (Photo | PTI) (File Photo | PTI)

KOLKATA: Minorities in West Bengal, constituting nearly thirty per cent of the electorate, are likely to vote for the TMC to halt BJP's advance, despite the presence of a secular alternative in the form of Left-Congress alliance, community leaders said.

According to minority leaders, Muslims in West Bengal, pivotal in several Lok Sabha seats, are inclined towards the Mamata Banerjee-led party, which they see as a credible force, unlike the Left-Congress alliance.

This inclination is particularly evident in districts such as Murshidabad, Malda, and Uttar Dinajpur, where minorities form the majority.

With the Indian Secular Front (ISF) opting to go solo, efforts to woo minorities might become more challenging for the Left Congress, especially with the saffron party capitalising on various polarising issues such as the Ram Mandir and Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

West Bengal boasts the second-highest number of Muslim electorate in the country after Kashmir and Assam.

Even though there may be some discontent within the community regarding the state government, religious minority leaders believe that voting for the TMC is crucial to counter the BJP.

Imams are likely to appeal to members of the community to ensure there's no split in minority votes, which in 2019 contributed to the BJP's success in minority-dominated areas.

"It must be ensured there's no split in minority votes. The TMC is the best choice in most of the seats, whereas the Left and Congress are best suited in some seats of North Bengal," said Qazi Fazlur Rehman, the Imam-eh-din, who leads prayers at the Red Road in Kolkata every year.

The president of the West Bengal Imam Association, Mohammed Yahya, said in districts such as Murshidabad, Malda, and Uttar Dinajpur, minorities might face a tough choice between the Left-Congress and TMC candidates.

"In these districts, the division of minority votes resulted in BJP victories in Uttar Dinajpur in 2019 and in one seat in Malda. However, this time around, minorities are expected to rally behind the TMC, similar to their support in the 2021 assembly polls," he added.

Imams are expected to convey this message to minorities from 40,000 mosques across the state.

The BJP had won Maldah Uttar and Raiganj seats in North Bengal in 2019, where the minorities constitute approximately 45 per cent of the electorate, due to the split of this voting bloc.

In a state where minorities constitute around 30 per cent of the electorate, their influence extends to 16-18 Lok Sabha seats, making them a coveted voting bloc for all parties.

Several parliamentary seats in both north and south Bengal, such as Raiganj, Coochbehar, Balurghat, Malda North, Malda South, Murshidabad, Diamond Harbour, Uluberia, Howrah, Birbhum, Kanthi, Tamluk, and Joynagar, have significant Muslim populations.

Mohammed Kamruzzaman, general secretary of All Bengal Minority Youth Federation, whose organisation has the biggest following among Muslim youths in the state, said, "In Bengal, TMC is the most credible force when it comes to fighting against BJP." Sabir Ahamed, a researcher with Nobel laureate Amartya Sen's Pratichi Trust, believes that the TMC's public welfare schemes have fostered strong support from minorities.

"The welfare schemes of the TMC government have played a key role in minority voters' preferences," he noted.

The CPI(M) and Congress highlighted livelihood issues, scams, anti-incumbency, and a rise in religious-ethnic sentiments as factors eroding TMC's hold over the minority vote- with the defeat in Sagardighi bypoll in 2023 being an indicator.

"The minority votes are returning to the Left and Congress and that has left the TMC and the BJP panicked," CPI(M) state secretary Md Salim said.

The defeat in the minority-dominated seat in the bypoll had sent shockwaves in the TMC camp, with the ruling party taking up measures to reach out to the community.

The entry of the Indian Secular Front (ISF) led by Abbas Siddiqui into Bengal's political arena was a response to the absence of a strong proponent for Muslims in the state's political landscape.

Although now led by its lone MLA Naushad Siddique, the ISF, despite garnering only 1.35 per cent of popular vote in 2021 West Bengal assembly election, is still seen as a threat to mainstream parties for a share of the state's 30 per cent Muslim vote.

"It's not about dole politics. Minorities in Bengal are fed up with TMC's corruption and misrule," remarked the ISF MLA Siddiqui.

The ISF, which has decided to go solo, had announced candidates for six Lok Sabha seats -- Jadavpur, Balurghat, Uluberia, Barrackpore, Diamond Harbour, and Basirhat.

Historically, minorities initially supported the Congress against Hindu Mahasabha and Jan Sangh.

However, from the late sixties, they shifted towards the Left, especially under leaders like Jyoti Basu.

The Left's decline began with the Sachar Committee report in 2008, highlighting the poor condition of minorities and anti-land acquisition movements in Nandigram and Singur.

Mamata Banerjee's TMC then emerged as the new minority advocate, leading to her overthrowing of the Left Front in 2011.

This shift has been criticised by the BJP-RSS as minority appeasement.

TMC won 34 Lok Sabha seats in 2014, reduced to 22 in 2019.

However, in the 2021 assembly polls, minorities voted for the TMC, securing its third consecutive term.

"The TMC has fought against the communal onslaught of the BJP and has protected the minorities. The Left-Congress are B team of the BJP in Bengal," senior TMC leader Kunal Ghosh said.

The BJP feels that post-abolition of instant triple talaq in 2017 and recent incidents in Sandeshkhali, where women have accused the TMC leaders of sexually abusing them, it is likely to get a pie of women- minority votes.

"The Muslim women this time will vote for the BJP in Bengal to express their gratitude," said state BJP chief Sukanta Majumdar.

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