By Arun Srivastava
Within forty hours of charging her with committing misdemeanour, the Election Commission on April 7 threatened Mamata Banerjee of taking action for violating Representation of the People’s Act by appealing Muslims to vote en bloc for Trinamool Congress.
While the EC construes this as an appeal having communal connotation, which she must clarify within 48 hours, for Narendra Modi this has been a major factor for feeling jubilant for him as he feels that the minority votes are slipping out of her hand. However he was quick to add that if he had made a similar appeal to Hindus to unite and vote for the BJP, it would have drawn the Election Commission’s wrath on his party. “We would have been censured,” he quipped.
It is worth taking notice that the EC has not based his action programme on a report from his own officers, instead it has been relying on a complaint received from a BJP delegation alleging that on April 3, Mamata appealed to the Muslim voters not to let their votes be split among different political parties during the election rally at Tarakeshwar in Hooghly.
While addressing a public rally she had told; “I am requesting my minority brothers and sisters with folded hands… don’t divide the minority votes after listening to the devil… who had taken money from the BJP… He passes many communal statements and initiates clashes between Hindus and Muslims… comrades of the CPI(M) and BJP are roaming around with money given by BJP to divide the minority votes”.
Only a day ahead TMC had in fact complained to the Chief Electoral Officer of West Bengal alleging mass distribution of cash coupons by BJP to “illegally gratify the electorate in Raidighi Assembly Constituency”. TMC demands initiating legal proceedings against BJP and its members responsible for the same. Mamata on Saturday had accused the BJP of funding Muslim leaders from the state and outside to split the community’s vote bank for political gains in the ongoing Assembly elections.
Without naming the Indian Secular Front (ISF) chief Abbas Siddiqui and AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi, Mamata alleged that the BJP was spending crores to use these parties to split the Muslim vote. She appealed to the community not to be influenced by them at all. Her concern about the possible split in her Muslim support base became evident in her speeches in Muslim-dominated Raidighi and Kulpi in South 24-Parganas.
Initially the BJP had nursed the view that the AIMIM of Asaduddin Owaisi and ISF of Abbas Siddiqui, the influential pirzada of Furfura Sharif shrine in Hooghly, will split Muslim votes. But it does not appear to be happening. Leaving apart a fraction of Muslims who nurse fundamentalist or isolationist views, most of the Muslims are not willing to take the two outfits seriously. They argue that even if they win all the seats they are contesting what difference they would make in the state. They would eventually help the BJP, which was not in their interest. Muslims can not forget the divisive politics of the RSS-BJP and the open threat of Amit Shah on the floor of Lok Sabha has made them conscious of their role.
Muslim vote in the state seems to be consolidating behind Trinamool. The West Bengal election will be about unprecedented Muslim consolidation behind the incumbent rather than a split in their vote. Even in remotest rural areas which had to face the wrath of Amphan Muslim voters are consolidating behind Mamata as they perceive her s the protector of their interests.
Even though a section of Muslim voters are angry with the TMC for not taking care of them they do not intend to vote for BJP. The Muslims are also not willing to subscribe the political line of voting for Muslim-centric parties. They are yet to repose their trust in the Left parties which is why they are also reluctant to vote for Siddiqui. For them Siddiqui is in the electoral fray to settle scores with his uncles and relatives who are with Trinamool.
The politics of identity and religion are inextricably tied to each other. The credit for this should go to the RSS and BJP. Ever since the saffron brigade has emerged as a potent political force in the political arena, they have been projecting the identity politics as the major issue. This acquires more velocity and virulent dimension during the elections as these are the occasion when this issue catches the attention of the people and make them realise and compare their prevailing condition with the others.
Much before the announcement of the assembly elections it had become apparent that the BJP will raise this in a more fierce and volatile manner. In fact its campaigning has even crossed the limit of political decency that it would maintain some kind of restraint and remain restricted within the walls of identity crisis. But the two top leaders Narendra Modi and Amit Shah went the wholehog in accusing Mamata of Muslim appeasement, thereby trying to project the CM and Trinamool as anti-Hindu
After a long time it is heartening to listen to Muslims publically identifying their choice and priorities. What has been most encouraging is the Muslim women, who presumably did not spell out their priorities without the permission of the males, have been also outspoken in revealing their mind. Bengal has around 30 per cent Muslim population. But they are not secretive in revealing their primaries.
Till a couple of years back the Muslims were hesitant of opening their minds. But now they have turned assertive. Their change in attitude and perception along with the shift in the dynamics of the Muslim politics has scared the BJP and RSS. Earlier the protagonists of Hindutva were aggressive, but in recent years they have been telling the Hindus that they are being marginalized by Mamata government. This certainly has had some effect on a section of Hindus in Bengal. But this small shift in Hindu preference in support of BJP in the assembly election may not be sufficient to counter the consolidation of women and Muslim voters behind Mamata. (IPA Service)