Kolkata: The Trinamool Congress (TMC) has been enjoying a strong support base among the minority voters in West Bengal for over a decade. The party has won successive elections since 2011 with a large share of Muslim votes, which constitute about 27% of the state’s population. However, recent developments have raised some doubts about whether the TMC can retain its hold over this crucial segment of voters.
One such development was the Sagardighi bypoll held on February 27, 2021, where the TMC candidate Debasish Bhattacharya lost to Congress candidate Bayron Biswas by a margin of 22,968 votes. The TMC had been winning this seat in Murshidabad district since 2011 and had secured 50.95% of votes in the 2021 assembly polls. However, its vote share dropped to 34.94% in the bypoll, indicating that a significant portion of Muslim votes went against it. Sagardighi is an assembly seat with almost 63% Muslim population, making it a stronghold of minority voters.
The Sagardighi debacle triggered a reshuffle in the TMC’s minority cell, with party chief and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee appointing youth leader Mosarraf Hossain as the new president of the unit and making former president Haji Nurul Islam as the chairman. She also reprimanded Jangipur Lok Sabha MP Khalilur Rahman and Murshidabad MP Abu Taher Khan for not performing their duties properly. She also entrusted minority leader and state mass education and library minister Siddiqullah Chowdhury with the responsibility of setting up the committee and drawing up the report.
Banerjee also assured her party leadership that minorities continued to be with the party and blamed its internal weakness for losing Sagardighi. She said that issues such as candidate selection, factionalism and lack of coordination were responsible for the defeat. However, some political analysts believe that there is more to it than meets the eye. They argue that there are signs of discontent among some sections of Muslim voters who feel that they have not received adequate benefits from the TMC government despite their loyalty. They also point out that some Muslim leaders have left or distanced themselves from the TMC in recent times due to various reasons.
For instance, former minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah quit TMC to join CPI(M) before joining BJP later. Former Rajya Sabha MP Ahmed Hassan Imran left TMC to join Congress before switching over to AIMIM led by Asaduddin Owaisi. Former minister Humayun Kabir left TMC to join BJP before returning to his old party Congress. Former MLA Idris Ali left TMC after being denied ticket in 2021 assembly polls and joined Abbas Siddiqui’s Indian Secular Front (ISF). Former MP Sultan Ahmed’s brother Iqbal Ahmed quit TMC after being denied ticket in 2021 assembly polls and joined ISF.
These defections indicate that there is some dissatisfaction among Muslim leaders within TMC who feel sidelined or ignored by Banerjee’s leadership. They also reflect that there are other political options available for Muslim voters who may be looking for alternatives to TMC.
One such option is ISF, which emerged as a new force in West Bengal politics before the 2021 assembly polls by forging an alliance with CPI(M) and Congress under the banner of Sanjukta Morcha (United Front). ISF was founded by Abbas Siddiqui, a popular cleric from Furfura Sharif shrine in Hooghly district who commands a huge following among Muslims across several districts. ISF contested on 26 seats out of which it won one seat (Bhangar) and came second on four seats (Sagar Dighi, Haripal, Uluberia Purba and Bally). It secured about 4% of votes in these seats where Muslims constitute more than half of population.
Another option is AIMIM which made its debut in West Bengal politics by contesting on seven seats but failed to win any seat or make any significant impact on vote share. However, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi has announced his plans to expand his party’s base.