Kolkata: Despite nursing a grudge against the state government for its alleged failure to curb communal riots, the minorities in Bengal are likely to vote for the TMC to stop BJP's march, leaders said. A deciding factor in several Lok Sabha seats in the state, the minorities especially Muslims are likely to vote for the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) which they perceive as a "credible force" unlike the Congress-Communist Party of India (Marxist) alliance, they claimed. "Despite having anger against the state government over various issues including several riots that took place in the state, the minorities will vote for TMC in the state to ensure their safety and security," Mohammed Kamruzzaman, General Secretary of All Bengal Minority Youth Federation told PTI. "In Bengal, TMC is the most credible force as it is in power, when it comes to fight against BJP," he added. Kamruzzaman, whose organization has the biggest following among Muslim youths in the state, said that the Congress-CPI(M) seat sharing talks have evoked little hopes as credible alternative among the masses.
The Imams of the city, who hold a sway over the large Muslim population here, felt that the minorities should vote for the strongest secular candidate. "We would appeal to the minorities to vote in favour of the strongest secular forces in their respective areas. Efforts should be made to ensure that only secular and democratic candidates win," Qazi Fazlur Rahman, the Imam, who conducts prayers on Eid at Red Road every year, told PTI. The Red Road Eid prayers witnesses the biggest congregation of Muslims in the state. Rahman's view was echoed by Shafique Qasmi, Imam of Nakhoda Masjid, the biggest mosque in the city, who stressed that the minorities must ensure that there was no division of their votes and only a secular and democratic force comes to power. The minorities, which comprise nearly 30 per cent of the electorate, are a deciding factor in nearly 16-18 Lok Sabha seats of the state. They are a vote bank that every political party has tried to woo. Parliamentary seats such as Raiganj, Coochbehar, Balurghat, Malda North, Malda South, Murshidabad in north Bengal and seats such as Diamond Harbour, Uluberia, Howrah, Birbhum, Kanthi, Tamluk, Joynagar in south Bengal have very high Muslim population.
The TMC presently holds a great influence over the minority votes in the state but several riots that took place in the last four years have angered a section of the minorities. According to Union Home Ministry data released in 2018, communal violence increased sharply since 2015 in West Bengal. While the state recorded 27 incidents of communal violence in 2015, the number almost doubled by 2017 when 58 such incidents were recorded. The recent ones being the Basirshat riots in 2017 and Asansol riots in 2018. The TMC, however, blamed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for trying to flare up communal passions to serve its own political purpose and expressed confidence that it will repeat its 2014 feat with the help of minorities. "The minorities are very well aware of developmental work that the TMC government has done. Bengal is known for communal harmony but BJP is trying to disturb that for its own political gains," TMC leader and minister Firhad Hakim said. According to TMC sources, minorities are likely to vote for the party to stop the march of the BJP. Since independence, the minorities in the state voted in favour of the Congress in order to keep outfits like the Hindu Mahasabha and Jan Sangh at bay.
However, since the late sixties, they gradually started drifting towards the Left forces, which under the leadership of Jyoti Basu and Promode Dasgupta put up an alternative against the Congress rule in the state. After the CPI(M)-led Left Front came to power in 1977, through its iconic policies of 'Operation Barga' - giving land to landless farmers which benefited lakhs including Muslims - cemented its support base among the minorities. Riding on the support of minorities and rural Bengal, the Left Front in 1996 and 2004 had sent the largest bloc of 33 and 34 MPs, respectively, to the Lok Sabha. But things started falling apart for the Left Front after the Sachar Committee report in 2008 painted a dismal picture on the condition of minorities in the state. Adding to their woes was the anti-land acquisition movement in Nandigram and Singur that made the TMC, led by Mamata Banerjee, as the new "saviour" of minorities.
Banerjee unseating the 34-year-old Left Front regime in the state but has been accused of appeasing minorities by the BJP-RSS, which emerged as the main opposition in West Bengal. "The policies of the state government were only aimed at protecting the interests of a specific community in the state. This has ignited anger among the majority community which feels only BJP can protect their interests," BJP state president Dilip Ghosh said. Senior CPI(M) leader and MP Mohammed Salim said the assertion by TMC that it is a saviour of the Muslims in the state has fallen flat in the last few years. While Leader of Opposition Abdul Mannan said that minority voting pattern would depend a lot on the credibility of the CPI(M)-Congress alliance in the state. "If we are able to put up a credible alternative then we too will receive considerable minority votes. But if we fail to do so, TMC will take away the entire share," the senior Congress leader said.