It is only a trickle and may never become a flood. But two parties are growing organically, without engineering splits or defections. One is the Shiv Sena, which has established a hold on campuses in Maharashtra, ousting the Bharatiya Janata Party
(BJP); and the other is the All India Majlis e Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), which used to be known as a Hyderabad-based party — till recently.
Take a look at the two recent Assembly elections that AIMIM contested seriously. In Maharashtra
(2019), in some pockets, its vote share went up dramatically. In Dhule City and Malegaon Central, for instance, the AIMIM increased its vote substantially over the previous Assembly polls. In Malegaon Central in 2014 it got 12.5 per cent of the vote in 2014. In 2019, it got more than 58 per cent of the vote in the same constituency. Similarly, in Dhule City, in 2014, it could not even save its deposit: It got just 2.4 per cent votes. But in 2019, it managed to get 28 per cent and won the seat.
The party repeated its surprising success in Bihar in the 2020 Assembly elections. Here the results were even more dramatic. In the Amour constituency, its vote share went up from 1.1 per cent in 2015 to a whopping 51.1 per cent in 2020. In the Kochadhaman constituency, it went up from 26.1 to 49.25 per cent; in Kishanganj, from 9.6 per cent to 23.4 per cent; and in Baisi, from 10.3 to 38.2.
The AIMIM did not win all the seats where its vote share went up. In Kishanganj, for instance, it was the Congress that won although the AIMIM had won the seat in a byelection just months earlier. The AIMIM won the Amour seat. And the Baisi seat. And the Kochadhaman seat ...
Little wonder then, that AIMIM is going to try its luck in West Bengal. Judging by the panic with which the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) has reacted to a recent Kolkata visit by AIMIM leader and MP Asaduddin Owaisi, the government is seriously worried.
Mr Owaisi was in Kolkata to hammer out an alliance deal with Abbas Siddiqui, the pirzada of Furfura Sharif, one of the most popular Islamic religious institutions in West Bengal. This is possibly the first time the AIMIM is entering into an alliance with an Islamic party — it has had an alliance of sorts with the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) for tactical and transactional reasons. It has stayed out of election in Assam (where it had the option of either tying up or contesting against Badruddin Ajmal’s All India United Democratic Front). Similarly, it says it will not enter Kerala because the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) is already in the electoral arena. But not only is it plunging into West Bengal but also has plans to contest the UP Assembly elections in 2022.
This much is clear — the AIMIM means business. But how realistic are its prospects in West Bengal?
It’s tricky, says Abhijit Dasgupta, former head of the department of sociology, Delhi School of Economics, who has studied the Muslims in West Bengal extensively. He makes two points: One, that Muslims in South Bengal are mostly converts and may find it hard to relate to Owaisi, whose family is largely Muslim aristocracy; and that language is a big barrier.
South Bengal is the area of domination of the TMC’s Adhikari family, which has just joined the BJP. So if there is a split in the Muslim vote, Prof. Dasgupta says it will hurt the TMC: There’s no doubt about that. But, he asks, does the AIMIM as a party even matter in the region where Bangla as a language is a crucial currency of identity, unlike Bihar?
In North Bengal, he says, the TMC is very strong and the Furfura sect — on the back of which the AIMIM is trying to make an entry — doesn’t have much of a presence. So the AIMIM will have to force a large turnout to carve out a vote for itself. In Malda, Murshidabad, North Dinajpur, and South Dinajpur, the Muslim population ranges between 40 and 50 per cent, more in some places. These areas are TMC strongholds. The AIMIM’s presence is not just going to divide the TMC vote: It is going to divide the Muslim vote. Obviously the end beneficiary could be the BJP. His assessment is that four months is not enough time for the AIMIM to replicate in West Bengal its success in Bihar.
Maybe. But the AIMIM will certainly increase its vote share. And its morale, for the upcoming battle in UP. And that’s going to hurt the opposition in UP. West Bengal, however, remains a question mark for the party.