Politics is not mathematics. One plus one is not necessarily two in politics. It could be anything from zero to a hundred. Zero for failure and a hundred for success. Here one plus one is All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi extending the hand of friendship to West Bengal’s influential Muslim cleric Abbas Siddiqui. The two leaders met in Hooghly on Sunday ahead of assembly elections in Bengal, triggering speculations of an imminent alliance which could harm Mamata Banerjee’s electoral prospects.
Is this a real threat to the TMC? Should West Bengal Chief Minister really worry about the Owaisi-Siddiqui league?
No matter what the outcome, both Asaduddin Owaisi and Abbas Siddiqui have decided to contest the polls. AIMIM chief, buoyant after the election results in neighbouring Bihar, is firm on expanding his party’s presence in Bengal. While Siddiqui, known for his criticism of the Mamata government, is determined to show his might with a foray into politics. Interestingly, they may prove complementary to each other if they decide to fight the polls together.
Both Owaisi and Siddiqui eye the Muslim votes, which make around 27% of West Bengal population (according to 2011 census) and play a decisive role in 100-110 assembly constituencies (out of total 294), traditionally voting in toto up until last elections: earlier for the Congress and the Left parties, now for the TMC.
Meanwhile, the Trinamool Congress has snubbed the AIMIM, calling it an outsider and B team of BJP, laughing off Owaisi’s proposal for an alliance to crush the saffron party. Ironically, the rhetorical allegation against the AIMIM, labelling it a BJP proxy, has worked neither in Maharashtra nor in Bihar elections. And with a possible tie-up with Abbas Siddiqui, a prominent cleric from Furfura Sharif who has a formidable support base in the state, the outsider offensive will also become redundant, because the force will have a Bengali face as well.
Strangely, there are two types of Muslims in West Bengal: Bengali speaking and Urdu speaking. While the Urdu speaking AIMIM leaders connect well with the Muslims in the urban areas, Siddiqui has substantial influence over Bengali speaking Muslims in the rural areas.
Plus, if the Owaisi-Siddiqui front takes shape, it could make a dent in the TMC’s sizeable Muslims votes in south Bengal, especially North 24-Parganas and South 24-Parganas districts along with Howrah and Hooghly, where Abbas Siddiqui has significant sway over Muslims.
Essentially, the AIMIM has been trying aggressively to make inroads into the Muslim-majority districts in the north and central Bengal. The formula paid off in Bihar’s Seemanchal region, where the AIMIM managed to outperform the Mahagathbandhan winning five assembly seats after a consistent groundwork of around six years.
Asaduddin Owaisi turned his attention to West Bengal after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Now, his party has an office in almost all districts. According to media reports, the AIMIM plans to contest over 100 assembly seats where Muslims have a sizeable presence. The party has recently grown its influence in Malda, Murshidabad, Nadia, North Dinajpur, North 24 Parganas, and South 24 Parganas districts, pulling a decent crowd in its rallies. While Abbas Siddiqui earlier indicated that he might field his candidates on 45 assembly seats after launching his political party.
So any future friendship will boil down to the seat-sharing exercise between the two, and AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi is serious about his business. After a meeting with Siddiqui in Hooghly, Owaisi called him an elder brother – even though he is much younger to him – and expressed his willingness to work under his leadership, which hints at his flexibility. In that scenario, chalking out a seat-sharing formula between the two leaders should not be difficult.
The growing bonhomie between Owaisi and Siddiqui should alarm West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Because while confidence is essential, overconfidence can turn disastrous in politics. Shifting of votes is not a new phenomenon for democracy. She should remember that the TMC raj was established in West Bengal when the voters shifted their loyalties from the left parties.
The BJP is upbeat after the result of 2019 general elections, in which the saffron party gained 16 seats, while the TMC lost 12 seats, compared to the 2014 general elections. Mamata Banerjee’s party maintained its hold in most of the Muslim dominated areas. In some parts of Malda and Murshidabad districts though the votes got divided between the TMC and Congress. She can’t afford to lose Muslim votes in the upcoming assembly elections.
No doubt, Muslims have their share of grievances. The TMC promised them 17 per cent reservation and failed them in many more ways than one. But, on the whole, they have voted for Mamata Banerjee. Now, with the fear of a surging BJP looming large on them, the Muslim communities are alarmed.
Didi should stop taking Muslims’ support for granted and keep her ear to the ground. Asaduddin Owaisi had offered her a pre-poll pact, But she chose to insult him in return. Now, the AIMIM chief has reached out to the Muslim cleric, who is all set for a political plunge.
The duo might cost Mamata dear in the elections if panicked Muslims switched their loyalties to their community leaders like Owaisi and Siddiqui. With a split of votes in the Bengal polls, Mamata’s loss may turn the BJP’s gain, throwing her out of power.