The West Bengal elections that are all set to be held in 2021 is likely to see a bitter battle between TMC and BJP as the latter emerges as a strong contestant in the state, for the very first time. However, one party that is fighting with TMC to bag a chunk of the Muslim vote, is AIMIM led by Asaduddin Owaisi. In a jolt to AIMIM on Monday, 20 of its leaders joined Mamata Banerjee led TMC ahead of the polls and hailed her as the most secular leader in the country.
Speaking to the media, former AIMIM leader Anwar Hasan Pasha, who led the 20 leaders joining TMC said, “Mamata Banerjee is the most secular leader in India. She has championed the Muslim cause (and) has been criticised for it. She is the only leader in the country who was on the road to opposed NRC (national register of citizens)”.
The leader said that Owaisi ended up polarising the votes in Bihar, and that he should not attempt to do the same in West Bengal. “If Mr Owaisi comes to Bengal, we will stand up against him. What we saw in Bihar will not be allowed in Bengal. The politics of divide and rule, and polarisation. Mr Asaduddin Owaisi polarised the voters in Bihar. My advice to Mr Owaisi is… don’t come to Bengal”, said Anwar Hasan Pasha while hailing Mamata Banerjee for championing Muslim cause.
TMC leader Bratya Bose claimed that the former AIMIM leaders led by Pasha (who had hailed Mamata Banerjee for championing the Muslim cause) were tired of the “communal politics” played by AIMIM and had been inspired by Mamata Banerjee to join TMC. He also claimed that Pasha was AIMIM’s key leader in Bengal, thereby predicting doom for the party.
AIMIM, however, did not see this as a massive loss for their party ahead of the West Bengal elections. Reacting to what Bose said, AIMIM’s Bengal observer Syed Asim Waqar said that Pasha was ‘just another leader’ of the party and had, in fact, been inactive for the past 1 year. Further, he alleged that Mamata Banerjee had been “planting moles” in AIMIM for a long time and now, the “moles” had been exposed.
Congress, which often sings a completely odd and different tune has alleged that TMC is trying to weaken opposition parties, hinting that she might be trying to help the BJP.
The Owaisi conundrum for Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal
In July 2019, it was reported that the AIMIM had announced their decision to contest the Assembly Elections in the state scheduled to be held in 2021. “It is true that we are fewer in number, but do not dare touch us. We are atom bombs. Didi, we welcome your friendship and enmity as well. You have to decide whether you consider us friends or foes,” AIMIM national spokesperson and Bengal observer, Asim Waqar, had stated sometime back.
The AIMIM had also organized a meeting at Dharmatala in Kolkata where the former MLA from Maharashtra Waris Pathan was also present. Consequently, in November, the Chief Minister of Bengal had warned the citizenry about the radicalism of the Owaisis. She did not name them but it was quite obvious who her comments were directed at. “I am watching that there are some extremists among minorities,” she told her party workers in Coochbehar, “They have their base in Hyderabad. Don’t listen to them.”
On the 8th of December, AIMIM leader Zameerul Hasan accused the Mamata Government of targeting his party. “Across the state, police officers are abusing our leaders, threatening them not to take up political programmes. This has happened after the Chief Minister indicated to the police to ensure that we don’t hold meetings and processions,” he told IANS. Hasan also announced that the party will organize a mega rally in Kolkata where Asaduddin Owaisi will be the main speaker.
Thus, things are not looking very good for Mamata Banerjee. She has spent too much of her political capital on her Muslim vote bank to be able to win without complete Muslim consolidation in her favour. In the course of the said appeasement, she has alienated significant sections of the Hindu community which have then consolidated in favour of the BJP. This is what we saw happen in the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections where the saffron party massively increased its seat tally.
Mamata Banerjee faces a situation where Asaduddin Owaisi is threatening to capture her Muslim vote bank while the Hindus have consolidated behind the BJP due to her continuous Muslim appeasement.
How this switch by AIMIM leaders to TMC might work out for Mamata Banerjee
Interestingly, the strategy to accept AIMIM leaders into TMC at this point with them calling Mamata Banerjee a ‘champion of the Muslim cause’ might not work out very well for Banerjee in West Bengal.
Hindus have already, large consolidated behind the BJP, especially the faction that sees Mamata Banerjee as a leader who is beholden to her Muslim vote bank. The consolidation of Hindus was evident during the Lok Sabha election where defying pundits, BJP managed to bag a massive 18 seats in West Bengal.
With former AIMIM leaders now joining TMC, the people of the state could see this as a signal of their already set perception of Mamata Banerjee, hinting that TMC is focussed on its Muslim vote bank.
Therefore, while TMC might hail this move as one that might benefit the party, in the long run up to the elections, this may as well prove to be a handicap.