Lok Sabha Election

Who gets West Bengal’s Muslim vote?

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Kolkata Mayor Sovon Chaterjee at an iftar party in Kolkata. File   | Photo Credit: PTI

As West Bengal goes to the polls for nine LS seats on Sunday, one question remains largely unanswered. Will the Muslims, constituting 27% of the State’s population, follow the earlier trend to vote for different parties or will they choose to vote for one party, in an election which is deeply polarised on communal lines.

In both the 2014 Lok Sabha poll and the 2016 Assembly election, their vote largely went to the Congress and the Communists in central and north Bengal, where Muslims are in a majority in three districts; in the deep South — which will vote on Sunday — the Trinamool Congress bagged almost all the seats in the blocks and the civic body areas where Muslims reside in large numbers.

In 66 blocks and municipalities, of a total of about 450, the Muslim population is over 50%, as per a Census-based study by Pratichi Institute. But in another 111 blocks and municipalities, their population is between 20% and 49%.

Gain for some

Of these 66, more than 40 are in three districts of north and central Bengal – Uttar Dinajpur, Malda and Murshidabad. The Congress got four seats in Malda and Murshidabad in 2014, while the CPI(M) got one in Uttar Dinajpur and another in Murshidabad.

In case of consolidation, which happened in some of the Lok Sabha byelections like Uluberia, Trinamool gained immensely. In Uluberia, its share jumped from 48% (in 2014) to 61% (2016 byelection), while that of the BJP increased from 11% to 23%. Uluberia has with substantial minority votes.

“This is precisely how polarisation worked in Bengal … both Trinamool and BJP gained,” said a retired Secretary, who worked in the State’s Minority Affairs Department. The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) highlighted this gain for both, without officially acknowledging that it largely happened because of Hindu Communists aligning with the BJP and Muslim Communists with the Trinamool.

“But there is no chance of Muslims consolidating for one party, especially in Malda,” said Jillur Rahman, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) president in Malda. He, however, did not deny the deep communal divide in this poll.

Growing fear

The consolidation appeared inevitable — if not in the north, where Muslims are in a majority in three districts — in the south, where they are in the minority. “The fear — which was never there in Bengal earlier ...even in 1992 — is growing among us,” said Sabir Hossain, a fruit vendor in Kalabagan in north Kolkata, in the same neighbourhood where the bust of the 19th century Bengal reformer was broken earlier the week. “We feared an attack,” said Mr. Hossain.

Interestingly, the BJP was not reluctant to enrol more and more Muslims, a drive that was initiated by Rahul Sinha, past president of the State unit. The party put up minority candidates in four seats, of which two are Muslims, said party’s Minority Cell president Ali Hossain.

“Over three lakh Muslims worked for us in this election. They were at different levels in the organisation including booth committees, head of Shakti Kendra (a few booths make one Kendra) or even as block president of the party... so how are we isolating Muslims?” he asked. Besides, Muslims “too are targeted by the Trinamool like the Hindus,” said Mr. Hossain.

The game of playing with the fear that Muslims are changing the demography of Bengal is continuing. On Friday, various pro-BJP websites and Hindutva organisations circulated videos of Hindus leaving homes in Diamond Harbour, slated to vote on Sunday, after being targeted by Muslims. While the information could not be verified independently, this fear mongering may help to consolidate Hindu votes.

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jan 16, 2021 8:00:28 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/lok-sabha-2019/who-gets-west-bengals-muslim-vote/article27165507.ece

Next Story