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#BengalElections: Mamata replaces Ma Maati Manush with Muslims

Sameer Chougaonkar | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 3:19 IST
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The strategy

  • Muslim votes hold the key to the TMC\'s victory in West Bengal
  • Mamata Banerjee has addressed 4 Muslim rallies in 3 months

The measures

  • Mamata\'s govt provided scholarships to Muslim students and allowances for imams
  • But she has also appeased hardline sections by banning a TV serial scripted by Taslima Nasreen

More in the story

  • Will Mamata succeed?
  • What impact will the BJP\'s entry have?
  • A list of Mamata\'s steps specifically for Muslims

Five states go to the polls in the summer of 2016: Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Puducherry.

The elections will put the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah juggernaut to test as they try to expand the BJP outside its core areas of influence.

West Bengal is one of the states where the BJP has been trying to make its presence felt. But it has been stopped in its tracks by Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress (TMC).

Also read - Danger games: Muslims & Mamata's communal play in Bengal

After its success in the civic body elections, the TMC will fancy its chances of coming back to power.

It is also buoyed by BJP's poor showing in Bihar, a state where the BJP has a much stronger presence than West Bengal.

The TMC is heartened by the fact that even Narendra Modi's high-pitched campaigning and the RSS' backing could not bring victory to the saffron party.

But Mamata is not taking any chances.

The Muslim vote

A key element of her success mantra is the support of the Muslim community. She feels that Modi and Sangh Parivar's antics are likely to lead to a polarisation of votes. Mamata would like to keep her Muslim support base intact in such a situation.

The Congress also enjoys considerable influence in some Muslim-dominated areas of the state such as Malda and Murshidabad. She might take a cue from Nitish Kumar to forge an alliance with the Congress for this purpose.

Most political analysts agree that Muslims hold the key to power in West Bengal. This is the reason Mamata Banerjee has made every attempt to woo this constituency ever since she assumed office at the Writer's Building in Kolkata.

These efforts have only intensified as the elections are draw closer. The Chief Minister has addressed at least four "Muslim" rallies in last three months. One of these rallies was organised by the Jamiat Ulema e-Hind, one of the leading Muslim organisations in India.

Mamata Banerjee has addressed 4 rallies organised by Muslim outfits in the last 3 months

In another rally called on 18 December, Mamata shared a stage with Toha Siddique, the Peerzada of Furfura Sharif, a prominent shrine for Bengali Muslims in Hooghly district. Siddique, a prominent minority leader of the state, has been a vocal critic of the TMC in the past.

All her rallies in the recent past have seen a robust attendance of Muslims.

Muslims comprise about 30% of the total population of West Bengal. Out of total 294 assembly constituencies, 70 can be won by their support alone. The community can play deciding role in another 35 seats.

MC is buoyed by BJP's poor showing in Bihar, where it is much stronger than in West Bengal

It is clear that anybody hoping to gain power in the state would have to win Muslim hearts. And Mamata has been equal to the task. She has taken several steps during her tenure to solicit Muslim support. Though some of these steps are genuinely aimed at the welfare of Muslims, a few measures - such as the the banning of a TV drama scripted by Taslima Nasreen --were nothing but attempts to pander to a handful of regressive voices in the community.

Through this the TMC showed that it is no different from the BJP when it comes to appeasing religious hardliners.

Here are some of these decisions:

  • Mamata kept the ministry of minority affairs with herself after forming the government. This was to ensure prompt response to Muslims' concerns.

  • She changed the name of Kolkata's Aliah University to Aliah Madrasa University within the first week of assuming office. This was a long pending demand of the West Bengal Madrasa Union.

In 2012, Mamata had announced a monthly allowance of Rs 2,500 for imams and Rs 1,500 for muezzins

  • In April 2012, the Chief Minister announced an allowance of Rs 2,500 for each imam. Later, a stipend of Rs 1,500 was also extended to thousands of muezzins who give the call to prayer in mosques. However, the decision was rejected by the Calcutta High Court in 2013. It stated that the allowance violated Articles 14 and 15/1 of the Constitution, which provide that the state shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.

  • The government banned the telecast of a drama series scripted by Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen after some Muslim fundamentalists raised objections.

  • Following the policy of pandering to Muslim hardliners, Mamata banned controversial writer Salman Rushdie from coming to Kolkata in January 2013.

  • Ahead of the July 2013 local body elections, the CM handed out free bicycles to girl students who go to government-aided madrasas.

  • The government provided scholarships to Muslims students between Classes I and X. Laptops were distributed to the Madrasa students who topped the exams.

  • The state government also established 56 marketing centres in Muslim dominated areas. It is estimated that around 55,000 members of the community would get employment through these centres.

  • Urdu was made the second official language in districts where Muslims comprise more than 10% of the population.

First published: 1 January 2016, 5:54 IST
 
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