Mamata vs Owaisi, a new political tussle emerging in West Bengal

Published : November 20, 2019 18:32 IST

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at a public rally at Sagardighi in Murshidabad district on November 20. Photo: PTI

AIMIM) president Asaduddin Owaisi. Photo: G. RAMAKRISHNA

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s thinly veiled attack on the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) may indicate the arrival of a new political force to challenge her supremacy in the State at a time when she has her hands full fighting a fast-rising Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). According to reports, the AIMIM is likely to contest in the 2021 Assembly elections in the State.

On November 20, at a public rally in Murshidabad district, Mamata, without mentioning any names, lashed out at the AIMIM, calling it an agent of the BJP. “There are some who come from Hyderabad with bundles of money, hold meetings and say that they will fight for you. But how will they fight for you; they are the BJP’s biggest dalaals (agent). If there is anybody who will be able to fight for you, it is us who are still alive, who are still with the struggle,” she said. Two days earlier, on November 18, addressing Trinamool Congress workers in Cooch Behar, she referred to AIMIM as “religious extremists”. “I am watching that there are extremists among the minorities. They have their base in Hyderabad. Don’t listen to them,” she said.

Reacting to Mamata’s attack, Owaisi hit back saying, “Our struggle is one for political, social and educational empowerment. Our fight is for justice. If this appears like extremism to the Bengal Chief Minister, then I have nothing to say. Extremism is allowing the BJP to win 18 seats in her State. Extremism is insulting the Muslims of Bengal by abusing me—those Muslims had wholeheartedly supported you…. Why are the social, educational, economic indicators for Muslims in Bengal so bad?”

Owaisi also attacked Mamata on social media: “By making allegations against me you are giving the message to Muslims of Bengal that Owaisi’s party has become a formidable force in the State. Mamata Banerjee is showcasing her fear & frustration by making such comments.”

With polarisation of votes taking place along communal lines, resulting in the BJP emerging as the main political opponent of the Trinamool, Mamata can ill afford a division of the minority votes that have remained largely behind her. In Bengal, as per Census 2011, the percentage of the Muslim population stood at over 27 per cent. In the 2019 Lok Sabha election in the State, the BJP won 18 of the 42 seats in the State, wresting away 14 seats from the Trinamool and one seat each from the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist). With its vote share reaching 40.25 per cent, just three per cent less than the Trinamool’s 43.29 per cent, it is now practically breathing down the ruling party’s neck. In this situation, the AIMIM’s arrival can mean a whole lot of trouble for Mamata in the 2021 Assembly election.

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