MILINDA GHOSH ROY
Kolkata: Despite growing disenchantment with the Mamata Banerjee government over unfulfilled promises in education, health and employment sectors, the lion’s share of the minority vote is likely to go to the Trinamool Congress, which may prove to be a key factor in the battle for the 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal.
According to political analysts and influential members of the community, Muslims who comprise over 28 per cent of the state’s population may vote for the state’s ruling party in a bid to stop the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from gaining a foothold in the state.
During the 34-year Left Front rule that ended in 2011, a large section of the Muslims in rural Bengal gradually aligned themselves with the Left. However, the Left government’s forcible acquisition of farmland in Singur and Nandigram about a decade ago and the Sachar committee’s report pointing out the pathetic condition of Muslims in Bengal eroded that support base, with Trinamool Congress being the gainer.
In the last general elections, among the major contestants, 40 per cent of the minority votes in Bengal went to Trinamool Congress while the Left and the Congress got 30 per cent and 20 per cent, respectively.
Political scientist Maidul Islam said over 60 per cent of minorities in Bengal may vote for Trinamool Congress as the community is largely apprehensive about how the BJP would treat them.
“The majority will vote for the Trinamool and a section will go to the Left also. But I won’t be surprised if more than 60 per cent of the minorities here vote for the Trinamool Congress. Apprehensions about the saffron brigade may consolidate the Muslim vote in favour of the Trinamool Congress,” Islam told IANS.
Islam said Trinamool Congress party’s vote share was 52 per cent of the minority votes in the 2016 state Assembly elections while the Left-Congress alliance got 38 per cent. The rest 10 per cent were shared between the BJP and other parties.
There have been a few low-scale communal riots in parts of Bengal like Basirhat, Howrah’s Dhulagarh and Malda since the BJP’s ascendancy in the last few years, Islam said, adding that the alarm within the community has further increased due to the BJP’s repeated claims of implementing the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and Citizenship Amendment Act which may go against them.
The minority vote share is significantly high in a number of Lok Sabha seats in the state like Raiganj, Baharampur, Malda North, Malda South, Murshidabad, Jangipur in north Bengal and Diamond Harbour, Joynagar, Birbhum, Basirhat and Jadavpur and can become a deciding factor in those places.
Another political analyst, Udayan Bandyopadhyay, claimed that barring a section of dedicated voters of the Left and Congress, the minority vote will back the state’s ruling regime in the 2019 polls as a “fear psychosis” has gripped the Muslim community.
“There is a fear psychosis among the Muslim voters not just in engal but across the country. There is also an anti-Modi wave within the community. So they are seeing this election as fight for their survival,” Bandyopadhyay told IANS.
However, according to Mohammed Kamruzzaman, General Secretary of the All Bengal Minority Youth Federation, the minority voters in Bengal are caught in a dilemma in this Lok Sabha election as they are not happy with Banerjee’s government but are forced to vote for her as there is no alternative.
“The minorities are facing a double edged sword. They do not consider either BJP or Trinamool Congress to be worthy of running the state. They want a secular alternative. But there isn’t any. So they are forced to vote for Mamata Banerjee to stop BJP this time,” he told IANS.
Kamruzzaman said Banerjee did not fulfil her promises to provide quality education and employment to the community after becoming Chief Minister.
The Trinamool Congress government had passed the law to include minorities in OBCs and give them 10 per cent reservation in higher education and jobs. But it has not been implemented anywhere in the state, he alleged.
But with the growing support for the BJP in Bengal, the minority leader claimed that the 2019 election is a battle for their “security” where demands for development have taken a back seat for now.
The saffron party, however, claimed that the “Modi-mantra” of development for all and moves like abolishing Triple Talaq will help them get sizeable minority votes in West Bengal.
The party’s only minority woman candidate in the ongoing polls Mafuja Khatun, who is contesting from Bengal’s Jangipur, said “sabka saath, sabka vikas” is a progressive and appealing slogan and not a communal one.
“I have been campaigning about Modiji’s progressive schemes ranging from skill development to women’s empowerment, which have proved their usefulness in finding better livelihood for the youth as well as poor men and women irrespective of their community.”
The BJP’s state Minority Morcha President Ali Hossain told IANS that the party is targeting 5 to 7 per cent minority votes from Bengal this time, which will be a “good progress” compared to the last general elections.
“We will get around 5-7 per cent minority votes overall. In some seats like Murshidabad and Jangipur, the BJP can get up to 20 per cent of the minority votes. Trinamool’s minority vote bank is leaking. Soon their tyres will become flat before they even come to know of it,” he added.