Perhaps no one has done so much as chief minister Mamata Banerjee to consolidate minority votes in West Bengal but before elections for 75 seats in the crucial third and fourth phase of the election, in which minority votes might be a deciding factor, she is perhaps a bit scared about the probable split in minority votes that might not work in her favour the way it happened in the last two elections in the state.
The chief minister’s fears were evident in her recent speeches where she appealed to the electorate not to allow the person who is visiting Bengal from Hyderabad as he has received money from BJP and contest the West Bengal Assembly elections. She was hinting at All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi, who is likely to contest the election alone. She also took potshots at Abbas Siddique, the cleric of Furfura Sharif, who formed the Indian Secular Front (ISF) and joined hands with Congress and the Left Front to contest the election.
“Stay calm…That Hyderabad party is coming and there is that talkative man from Hooghly. They are trying to divide the votes by giving money to the voters. Not a single vote should be divided no matter how much they petrify you. They are trying to divide Hindu and Muslim votes. What is Mamata Banerjee then? Hindu or Muslim?” Banerjee said in a political rally in Coochbehar district, where Muslims share a majority of the votes.
Before we go for the analysis, a careful look at the demographic structure of the state will make the poll mathematics easier. According to the 2011 Census, West Bengal had more than 24.6 million Bengali Muslims, who formed 27.01 per cent of the population of the state.
Bengali Muslims form the majority of the population in three districts: Malda, Murshidabad and Uttar Dinajpur. However, Muslim votes make approximately 30 per cent of the total vote share of the state and it is believed that the consolidation of these minority votes in favour of a political party will make it easier for them to come to power. According to poll statistics, 125 of the 294 assembly seats in West Bengal have a strong Muslim presence, including Howrah, Birbhum, Murshidabad, North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas.
The Muslim vote bank is the bigger and a deciding factor in Bengal polls. For almost three-and-a-half decades, the Muslims were wooed and considered a vote bank by the Left Front, which ruled the state for 34 years running. The ‘Poriborton’ came when the TMC got into action and amassed the farmers, workers and Muslims, and especially the poor, during their Singur and Nandigram agitations and the Muslim started to shift their loyalty from Left to Trinamool Congress.
Even as the Left Front was successful in retaining the Muslim vote bank and managed 45 per cent of the minority votes in 2011, the huge incumbency factor against the then government allowed Mamata Banerjee to come to power.
The shift of loyalty was strongly evident in Lok Sabha 2014 when the Trinamool Congress bagged 34 out of the 42 seats in the states with more than 40 per cent of the Muslim exercised their franchise in favour of the Trinamool Congress.
Though the Left Front and the Congress collectively managed 55 per cent of the votes but as they contested separately, Mamata Banerjee got the advantage of the division of the minority votes.
In 2016, when the Left and the Congress were in a formal alliance in West Bengal, their collective share of the Muslim vote fell to 38 per cent, and the Trinamool’s increased to 51 per cent. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, this share of the Muslim vote for the Trinamool grew further to 70 per cent. The Left and the Congress secured 10 per cent and 12 per cent of the Muslim vote respectively.
However, things started to change from 2019 when BJP emerged as a key player in state politics and managed 18 Lok Sabha seats reducing the Trinamool from 34 to a meagre 22. Assembly segment-wise the Trinamool led in 164 Assembly segments in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, and the BJP in 121. The difference in vote shares between the Trinamool and the BJP was 3.1 per cent in favour of the former allowing BJP to make a quantum leap from 2 in 2014 to 18 in 2019.
As per some survey reports, the BJP’s phenomenal rise was a result of its successful consolidation of Hindu and tribal vote bank. The BJP had an overall vote-share of 17 per cent in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in the state, but that expanded to more than 40 per cent in 2019, owing largely to the party securing 57 per cent of the vote among Hindus.
According to the Centre for Study of Developing Societies, 57 per cent of Upper Castes, 65 per cent of OBCs, 61 per cent of Scheduled Castes, and 58 per cent of Scheduled Tribes voted for the BJP.
With the Hindu votes going the BJP way, Mamata largely will have to depend on the Muslim vote and in case Siddiqui and Owaisi manage to snatch away Muslim votes from the Trinamool, the BJP might just have the last laugh.
On the other hand, if Mamata manages to retain the Muslim vote bank she might have an edge over the saffron brigade.
Congratulating Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for making Bengal one of the best states and assuring to stand beside her in her lonely fight against the BJP, veteran actor and Samajwadi Party Rajya Sabha MP Jaya Bachchan subtly hit back at the BJP, saying that no one has been successful in intimidating and threatening the Bengalis.
Subtly hinting at the outsider jibe of Trinamool against BJP campaigners from outside states, Bachchan, referring to her Bengali roots, introduced herself as a ‘Bengali’. “I am Jaya Bachchan. Before that I was Jaya Bhaduri. My father was Tarun Kumar Bhaduri and we are non-resident Bengali but we are Bengali,” she said. “I am thankful to Akhilesh Jadav ji for giving me a chance to come to Bengal and campaign for Trinamool Congress and Mamata Banerjee in particular,” she added.
Bachchan, who is on a four-day election campaign in the state, will conduct rallies and roadshows and is likely to share the dais with chief minister Mamata Banerjee to garner support for the party in this crucial election. Speaking at a press conference at Trinamool Bhawan – the party office in Kolkata, she said, “I have lots of love and respect for Mamataji, who is one single woman fighting against all atrocities. Head broken, leg broken but they have not been able to break her heart and brain and determination to move ahead and make Bengal one of the best places in the world. She will accomplish what she wants. Bengal will witness further development under her leadership”.
It is to be mentioned that besides SP, other prominent opposition parties such as the NCP, Shiv Sena, RJD and JMM, have extended support to the Trinamool Congress in the ongoing West Bengal assembly elections, notwithstanding the fact that the Congress and the Left Front have forged another alliance against the BJP.
“She is fighting for the rights and respect of the people of Bengal. This is the safest state for women. Those who are criticising her by using offensive words, I would only say, shame! shame!” she said hinting at the Trinamool Congress allegation that the Prime Minister was trying to insult Mamata Banerjee by taunting her as ‘Didi’ in his political rallies.
Cautioning everybody against any attempt to throttle the democratic rights of the people, the wife of Amitabh Bachchan said, “Do not hijack my religion from me, do not hijack my democracy and democratic rights from me. And when I tell ‘me’, I represent all people.”
Apparently referring to the charge that the BJP is out to divide Bengal by creating fissures on religious lines, Bachchan said, “Let us remember the lines penned by Rabindranath Tagore- Bangalir pran Bangalir mon Bangalir ghare joto bhai bon ek hok ek hok hain Bhagavan (Mind and soul of Bengal can never be broken, the bonding among brothers and sisters in every Bengali household will never be broken).
The BJP was quick to respond. “Who knows her (Jaya Bachchan)? Do the young generation have any connection with her,” BJP state President Dilip Ghosh said.
Later in the day, she attended a roadshow from Tollygunge to Garia – a nearly four-kilometre stretch in South Kolkata in support of Arup Biswas who is contesting as a Trinamool congress from Tollygunge. (IANS)