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Current Affairs ( 22 Nov 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Forthcoming Bengal Elections, AIMIM And The Dilemma Of Secular Parties

New Age Islam Special Correspondent

23 November 2020

The success of the AIMIM in the recently concluded assembly elections of Bihar has started a debate on the role the AIMIM may play in the forthcoming assembly elections in West Bengal where TMC is in power for the last ten years and there is no anti-incumbency factor. Still political analysts believe that the AIMIM may play spoilsport for TMC and other secular parties like the Congress and the Left.

Many analysts and secular apologists are of the opinion that Owaisi's AIMIM may help the BJP win the elections in the same way it helped the NDA form government in Bihar by wresting 4 seats from the Congress and RJD and one seat from the JDU.

The AIMIM had fielded 14 candidates in the constituencies of the Seemanchal region. The constituencies comprised Lok Sabha constituencies of Kishanganj, Araria, Katihar and Purnia but it won 5 seats of only Kishanganj Lok Sabha constituency where the Muslim population is between 60 and 70 percent.

The rest of the constituencies have Muslim population less than 40 per cent and non-Muslim population there is more than 60 per cent. That's why Owaisi's party did not fare well there as Owaisi's Muslim centric campaign only strengthened Hindu vote bank in these constituencies.

This makes it clear that Owaisi eyed only the Muslim majority constituencies where the Congress and RJD had hold over the Muslims.

This is the reason political circles believe that in Bengal Owaisi will pursue the same strategy of fielding candidates only in constituencies where Muslims have a decisive population and where secular parties --- the Congress, the CPIM and the TMC have their base. If it happens, the AIMIM may really be the cause of concern for the ruling TMC.

To understand the political situation of West Bengal first we should take a look at the party position in the current West Bengal Assembly:

TMC: 222

CONG: 23

CPIM: 19

BJP: 16

FB: 2

RSP: 2

GJM: 2

RSP: 1


TOTAL : 294

If we have a look at the number of seats Muslims have won across parties, we find that 59 Muslim candidates have won across parties. The party-wise position of Muslim seats is as follows:

TMC: 32

CONG: 18



Now let's find out, among these 59 Muslim candidates how many Muslim candidates were challenged by Muslim candidates. Against 32 TMC Muslim candidates, 20 Muslim candidates were runners up. Against 18 Muslim candidates of the Congress, 14 Muslim candidates were runners up. Against 8 Muslim candidates of the CPIM, 4 Muslim candidates were runners up. Against one Muslim candidate of Forward Bloc, a BJP candidate was runner up. Such seats are 39 where Muslim candidates were runners up against Muslim candidates.

Now obviously Owaisi will field his Muslim candidates where both the winner and runner up candidates were Muslims. He will field candidates in these 39 candidates making the contest a quadrangular one. The BJP, the Left-Congress Alliance, TMC and AIMIM. This will divide the secular votes. As a result of this divide on these seats, either the AIMIM will win all the 39 seats or the BJP will win as a result of the division of the secular votes.

In other constituencies where Muslims are not a decisive factor but have a sizeable population, the four pronged fight will only divide the Muslim votes among three secular parties/alliances giving the BJP a clear victory. If it happens in at least 60 seats, the TMC will lose 60 seats to the BJP. it will lose about 39 seats to the AIMIM or to the BJP from the Muslim dominated belt.

Therefore, the TMC is likely to lose 100 seats to the BJP and AIMIM. This will leave the TMC at only 122 seats. The required number to form the government is 148.

Why this does not seem impossible is that in the current Lok Sabha, the BJP has 18 seats from Bengal. The 18 Lok Sabha seats of BJP may realise into more than 80 MLAs. This may not be considered far-fetched due to the politics of communal polarisation to be pursued by the AIMIM and the BJP. An atmosphere of hate and mistrust will be created by both the parties which will divide the electorate on communal lines. A survey has already hinted at the possible upset for the ruling party. The results of this survey are as follows:

TMC: 165-170

NDA: 107-130

CONG-LEFT: 22-30

According to this projection a goverment of the BJP and AIMIM is a possibility.

The Left and the Congress don't have much to offer in these elections. The Left has not been able to win back the confidence of the people due to the populist measures of the TMC government. The Congress does not believe in aggressive politics and so has not been able to take advantage of the deteriorating law and order situation or communal riots that have taken place during the TMC rule. Price rise is also an issue which the Congress could not exploit. Instead it has aligned with the Left parties to fight against the TMC and the BJP which seems almost impractical and the alliance is unnatural. The Congress is not clear about what it actually wants to achieve by forming an allaince with the Left that suppressed and crushed it during its 33 year rule.

There is widespread criticism against the AIMIM for its policy of dividing the Muslim votes. The secularists fear that Owaisi will divide the Muslim votes and pave the way for the victory of the BJP. By doing this, they hold only Muslims responsible for the victory of the BJP. But the fact is that in the constituencies where Muslim voters were almost non-existent, Hindus voted for the BJP and rejected the Congress or other secular parties. The secular parties demand of the Muslims a commitment to secularism but do not want to change their position or policy vis a vis the BJP. The fact is that the BJP wins more due to the division of secular votes than due to Hindu votes.

In almost every election the secular parties contest independently claiming to be the true flagbearer of secularism and cause the division of secular and minority votes. The BJP's votes are not divided. Still the self proclaimed aecular political parties do not see reason and don't change their poll strategy.

That's why this time there is a suggestion from Furfura Sharif, a seat of Sufi Islam having some hold among the Bengali Muslims of Bengal for an anti-BJP alliance of all the secular parties in Bengal. Abbas Siddiquee, a representative of Khanqah of Furfura Sharif has given a call for a TMC-Cong-Left alliance against the BJP. He has announced that he was going to launch a political party and invite TMC, Congress and the Left to form an alliance if they really want to defeat the BJP. If a party does not join the allaince, it will be construed that the party is hand in glove with the BJP, he said.

Even if Furfura Sharif does not launch its party, it would be wise for the TMC, Cong and the Left to join hands to defeat the BJP on a realistic seat sharing basis. But it is a fact that the Left-Cong combine is more interested in TMC being toppled than in preventing the BJP. If the BJP comes to power, it would be easier for them to remove a communal party like BJP than to remove a secular party like TMC in the next elections. This seems to be their political strategy.

Therefore, instead of blaming the Muslims for the division of votes, the political parties should wake up to the new challenges and form alliances on a realistic assessment of their vote base. Most of the time the alliance can't materialise due to unrealistic claims by constituent parties on seat sharing. The results of Bihar would have been different if the Congress had not insisted on 70 seats.

The secular parties can prevent the BJP from coming to power only if they form a realistic alliance against it. But that would mean the Cong and the Left will have to accept the leadership of the TMC as the largest party and defeating the BJP would mean saving the TMC government for another 5 years. Therefore, the Cong-Left combine will prefer the BJP coming to power over saving the TMC government


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