Owaisi party entry into Bengal likely to unsettle TMC’s sway over minorities

Owaisi party entry into Bengal likely to unsettle TMC’s sway over minorities

KOLKATA: With Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM announcing that it would contest Bengal polls, having bagged five seats in neighbouring Bihar, political arithmetic, in all likelihood, is set to witness a major change as TMC’s sway over minority votes seems to be up for a stiff challenge.
The Mamata Banerjee-led party, which had been the sole beneficiary of minority votes since the defeat of the Left Front in 2011, however, tried to put up a brave face, arguing that Owaisi’s influence on Muslims is limited to Hindi- and Urdu-speaking communities that make for just six per cent of Muslim electorate in the state.
Muslims comprise 30 per cent of West Bengal’s voters. The state has the highest number of Muslim electorate in the country after Kashmir.
A deciding factor in nearly 100-110 seats in the 294- member Assembly, minorities especially the Muslims, till 2019, have acted as a bulwark of the TMC against its rivals, with most of them voting in favour of the party, considering it to be a “credible” force that can resist saffron surge.
With the entry of the AIMIM, equations are likely to change, prominent Muslim leaders said.
Buoyed by the results of Bihar polls, Owaisi had announced that the AIMIM would contest elections in West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and other states.
Talking about the Telangana-based party’s detailed plan for Mission West Bengal, its national spokesperson Asim Waqar told PTI on Wednesday that the outfit has already set up units in 22 out of the 23 districts of the state.
“We will fight assembly polls in Bengal. We are preparing our strategy. We have registered our presence in 22 out of the 23 districts of the state. We think, as a political party, we can make deep inroads into the state,” Waqar said.
The AIMIM’s plan to enter Bengal was frowned upon by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at an anti-NRC rally in north Bengal in November last year, when she, without taking a name, launched a frontal assault on the party by asking Muslims to be wary of “minority extremists” from Hyderabad.
Owaisi — who is fast emerging as the leading Muslim voice in the country — was quick to hit back, stating that West Bengals minorities have one of the worst human development indicators.
According to the AIMIM, Owaisi has found Bengal to be a fertile ground for his expansion plans. The party has built a “good support base” in minority-dominated districts of Malda, Murshidabad, South Dinajpur, North Dinajpur, South 24 Parganas.
All five districts comprise more than sixty assembly seats. Incidentally, barring South 24 Parganas, the remaining four districts border Bihar, where the party won five seats, eating into the Muslim vote share of the RJD-led Mahagathbandhan.
According to AIMIM state leadership, the party first evinced interest in Bengal after the 2019 parliamentary polls.
A rally was duly organised in Kolkata, which witnessed a huge attendance of Muslim youths.
“We sensed that Muslims are looking for an alternative and decided to build our base in the state. When we visited the districts, we received a favourable response. Now we have a strong base in several places,” a state AIMIM leader said.
According to AIMIM sources, the war of words between Banerjee and Owaisi provided the party a much-needed propellant to make a foray into the state’s political scene.
—PTI

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