Muslims and the Politics of Voting Banks in West Bengal
The condition of the Muslim minority in West Bengal is “very pathetic and miserable” and “although your government has been in power in West Bengal for over a decade, Muslims are still a marginalized, backward and neglected part of society” . State Congress Speaker and Party Leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury alleged as much in a letter he recently wrote to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
The opposition BJP, however, alleged that the ruling party is “appeasing” Muslims as a majority vote of nearly 30% of Bengal’s population helped Trinamool secure a third consecutive term.
“Mamata Banerjee has done nothing for Muslims in West Bengal. Trinamool has treated Muslims like a vote bank. There is appeasement. A common example we see is when bodies don’t slap youngsters without helmets There is no action against the infiltrators who cross the borders, take refuge here and engage in illegal activities,” alleges Charles Nandi, State Chairman, Minority Morcha, BJP.
In its manifesto from 2011, the year Trinamool formed the state government, party promises included Muslim universities and colleges, more madrasas and Urdu schools, and setting aside part from the state budget for plans for the educational and economic improvement of Muslims. “Our promises have been kept,” said the 2016 election manifesto, which listed the successes.
This year’s state budget mentioned that 12.47 lakh scholarships were disbursed in 2021-22. In addition, the government has also stated that for self-employment, term loans and microfinance are offered to individual entrepreneurs and self-help groups. Modernization of madrasas, new inns, marketing centers and construction works have been initiated.
Despite these efforts, the Trinamool was on the back, recently, in two respects. Two incidents with political and religious backdrops – the mysterious death of student leader Anis Khan and the deaths of eight people, when houses were burned down in retaliation for the killing of a local Trinamool leader in a village in the district of Birbhum, were viewed with skepticism by part of the community. In the recent assembly by-election in Ballygunge constituency in South Kolkata, Trinamool went ahead with their chosen candidate despite reservations surfacing in Muslim pockets.
“In public jobs, the percentage of Muslims has increased from 3-4% to 6.7%. Progress is very slow. Due to the rise of BJP, fearing a backlash, Trinamool slowed down. Apart from the few freebies like iftar parties, which are on the decline, there is nothing special to ‘appease’ Muslims,” said Sabir Ahmed, National Research Coordinator, of the Pratichi India Trust run by Amartya Sen.
With Congress and the left having limited political strength at the moment, it’s a binary choice that Muslims have, like the rest of voters. BJP and TMC understand this well.
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