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AIMIM sets eyes on Bengal, BJP sniffs advantage

With Owaisi expected to field Muslim candidates and raise issues such as the CAA and NRC, as he did in Bihar, BJP leaders assess that the move would be to their advantage in consolidating Hindu votes in the state.

Written by Liz Mathew | New Delhi |
Updated: November 20, 2020 11:49:18 am
AIMIM, Asaduddin Owaisi, imtiyaz jaleel, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimin, Bharuch news, Ahmedabad news, Bharatiya Tribal Party, Chhotu Vasava, BTP AIMIM alliance, india news, indian expressAIMIM's president Asaduddin Owaisi. (File)

AFTER MAKING impressive gains in the recent assembly election in Bihar, Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) is gearing up to field candidates in the West Bengal election, scheduled to be held next year. With Owaisi expected to field Muslim candidates and raise issues such as the CAA and NRC, as he did in Bihar, BJP leaders assess that the move would be to their advantage in consolidating Hindu votes in the state.

Although they reject the allegation that AIMIM is its “B-team”, the party leaders feel the presence of “hardcore Muslim faces” in the electoral fray would help the party to rally Hindu votes behind it. “AIMIM candidates can do what the Congress, Left or TMC candidates may not be able to. The party, its ideology and the issues it raises can certainly keep the Hindu votes, including the so-called moderate ones, with us,” said a BJP leader who is involved with the party’s electioneering in West Bengal.

According to the BJP leaders, out of the total 294 seats, there are around 75-80 constituencies, spread largely in north and south Bengal, where Muslim voters could swing the results. The BJP, which recently emerged as the main rival of the ruling TMC after making significant inroads in the 2019 parliamentary polls, has already launched an intense campaign in the state.

Muslims constitute 27 per cent of Bengal’s population. Districts such as Malda, North Dinajpur and Murshidabad have more than 50 per cent Muslim population while one-fourth of the population in Birbhum, North and South 24 Parganas, Howrah and Nadia districts are from the community.

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In the recent Bihar election, the AIMIM fielded 20 candidates, of which 14 were in Muslim-dominated Seemanchal region, bordering Bengal. The party won five seats.

Owaisi recently alleged that the Muslim community has been alienated in West Bengal and said the social and economic condition of Muslims in the state “is worse than that of those” in many parts of the country.

According to sources, Owaisi is planning to field young Muslim faces in the Bengal election who “will not dilute the issues the minority community wants them to raise”. In Bihar, the party candidates had raised issues such as CAA and NRC while other opposition parties such as the RJD and Congress refrained from it, despite having enjoyed the community’s support for a long time.

In Bengal, the BJP’s emergence and its campaign against “vote-bank politics or appeasement politics” — with reference to the state government’s welfare measures for the minorities — have forced Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and the TMC to tone down their pro-minority remarks.

“Now that the TMC and even the Congress adopting a soft Hindutva approach, the Muslim voters, especially the youth, could declare their allegiance to Owaisi who speaks for them… This will certainly alert the Hindus,” said a BJP leader.

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