If the record surge in the BJP vote share — from 6.14 per cent in 2009 to 17.5 per cent in 2014 — was the headline from elections in West Bengal, another story is quietly unfolding away from the media glare: the induction of Muslims into the BJP especially in areas where the party dramatically improved its vote share.
Over a week, as The Indian Express travelled across a swathe of rural West Bengal covering Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar, Coochbehar Lok Sabha seats and also parts of Raigunj, Balurghat and Nadia where the BJP gained the most, the story is the same: hundreds of Muslim families in village after village are signing up with the BJP at what are called “Yogdaan” ceremonies held almost on a daily basis since results came on May 16.
No cumulative numbers are available yet but according to lists offered by the local BJP units in these places, the number would have crossed 50,000 in Jalpaiguri alone.
Their reasons are a blend of political confidence, inducement, fear and the vacuum created by the local Left leadership, all riding on an aggressive hardsell by local BJP leaders who are using Narendra Modi’s name to underline that “development,” (jobs, protection and money) is on their agenda, not Hindutva. In a region where 30-40 per cent of the population is Muslim, this rhetoric comes with constant references to a Modi-majority Centre.
So after namaz, as New Delhi was preparing for the swearing-in ceremony, Samiruddin Mian and over 150 families, comprising over 500 voters of Banglarjhar and Patkakhocha villages under Domohoni Village II Panchayat in Jalpaiguri district joined the BJP. The venue of this Yogdaan ceremony was a patch of farmland next to a Durga temple, teeming with about 3,000 new BJP supporters.
Aliyar Rahaman, an elected village panchayat member of Domohoni Block-II, was with the Revolutionary Socialist Party, a constituent of the Left Front, but this election, he says, has changed equations. “Eight village panchayats in this area belonged to the RSP and two to the CPM, most of these have now switched to the BJP,” says Aliyar.
Asked why, he says: “In the villages, we can’t live without politics. For generations, our fathers and grandfathers have been with the Left. Even in this Lok Sabha polls, we voted for the Left. But we lost miserably. Our top leaders have disappeared. They are not to be found. We want to be with a powerful party. BJP is the most powerful party,” says Aliyar.
Says his colleague Azizul Haque: “Muslims have always been safe and secure in this state, either under the Left or now in the TMC. Here, they form nearly 30 per cent of the population, this gives us the confidence to test a new political formation and see how that plays out.”
There is a set pattern in these Yogdaan ceremonies. Assembled BJP leaders continued…