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Why Left-Congress combine is focusing on the Muslim vote in Bengal

Their keenness to partner with Pirzada Abbas Siddiqui shows that the two parties want to regain their lost vote bank among Muslims even at some political cost
Last Updated : 16 February 2021, 04:12 IST
Last Updated : 16 February 2021, 04:12 IST

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Politics is not only about power. It is equally about perception. An election, similarly, is a battle of contesting perceptions.

So far as the coming Assembly election in Bengal is concerned, the two main rivals have created clear perceptions about themselves in the minds of the people. By engineering the continuous outflow of MLAs and MPs from the ruling camp, the BJP has portrayed the TMC as a sinking ship and itself as the rising force. The TMC, for its part, is fighting back by claiming that the party is only about Mamata Banerjee, and all those who have faith in her should vote for the TMC.

But there is a third force, the Left-Congress combine, which has not been able to create any perception about itself. Apart from their small pockets of hardcore supporters, people at large still do not know why they should consider voting for this combine. And so, weeks before the commencement of elections, it is going in for what appears to be a desperate move.

The desperate move we are talking about is the Left-Congress combine’s keenness to have an alliance with Pirzada Abbas Siddiqui’s Indian Secular Front (ISF).

Emergence of a Muslim outfit in Bengal

To have a clear understanding of the situation, we must acquaint ourselves with the background of Pirzada. He belongs to Furfura Sharif, a shrine in Hooghly district in south-eastern Bengal. He founded a socio-religious organisation Ahale Sunnatul Jamat, which has quite a big following in the southern Bengal. This cleric, so far considered to be soft towards Mamata Banerjee, is known to hold radical positions, and has often been criticised by the RSS forthem.

As far as Muslim identity politics is concerned, the buzz in Bengal was about AIMIM’s high voltage entry in Bengal electoral politics after its success in Bihar. Just then, out of the blue, emerged Pirzada Siddiqui and his new outfit. AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi visited Furfura Sharif in early January 2021, met Siddiqui, and then announced that they would contest the election in Bengal under Siddiqui’s leadership. Then on January 21, Siddiqui floated his own party. The TMC dubbed it as “vote-katua” and the BJP criticised it as a communal outfit.

Initially, the Siddiqui-Owaisi combine was perceived as a fringe force that could slightly damage the TMC by attracting two to three per cent votes, without a doubt of the Muslims. But soon, senior Congress leader Abdul Mannan met Siddiqui and expressed willingness to fight the upcoming assembly election together. The CPI(M)) also followed suit. Now Siddiqui has started the process by writing formal letters to these parties.

It is quite evident that the AIMIM members too will contest election as Pirzada's party candidates. If the Left-Congress combine shares space with the Owaisi-Siddiqui duo, it will surely not go down well with the Hindus. Still, the keenness of the Left-Congress combine to share seats with this ‘radical’ Muslim outfit is not inexplicable. Instead, it reflects a definite strategy.

The Left-Congress strategy

The Left-Congress combine wants to grab a larger share of the Muslim votes (which is about 30 per cent of Bengal’s voting population). They think if they can take away a sizable chunk of Muslim votes, it will ensure Mamata’s defeat. Not only that. They also believe if the TMC is defeated, it will just wither away, and they will emerge as the challenger to the BJP in the future. This line of thinking has attracted them towards Siddiqui.

In Muslim-dominated districts of North Bengal, i.e. North Dinajpur, Malda and Murshidabad, this combine still holds some sway over the Muslim population. Out of the six Lok Sabha constituencies in these districts, the Congress, TMC and BJP won two seats each. Now the Left-Congress combine needs an engine to propel them into a strong position in southern Bengal’s Muslim areas. In Siddiqui, they hope to have found the engine.

The Left-Congress initiative shows that the combine is not confident of retaining their Hindu votes. But at the moment they are not concerned about this. Like TMC, they too believe monopoly over Muslim vote is a recipe for dominating the political scene in Bengal. And once upon a time, before the TMC’s rise, the Muslims were with them. So, regaining the lost vote-bank is now the top priority for the combine.

(Diptendra Raychaudhuri is a Kolkata-based journalist and author of several books, including the recently published detective novel Mirchi Memsaab’s House of Faith)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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Published 16 February 2021, 04:12 IST

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