Votebank no more: Now Bengal BJP wants Muslim support in this month's civic polls
Politics they say, make strange bedfellows. Take the case of the Bharatiya Janata Party and its new focus state, Bengal.
The party has been desperate in its bid to carve out more political space in the home state of Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, the founder president of BJP's predecessor Bharatiya Jana Sangh. That has now led the party to woo Muslim voters, a bloc that has traditionally been on opposite poles with the party.
Nearly one in four voters in the state is a Muslim. That must be playing big in the minds of those who have to ready the party for next year's panchayat polls and then the big fight -- the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
In what can be a glimpse of things to come, the party is making efforts to reach out to those Muslims who will vote in seven municipal elections this month. For starters, Booth Chalo campaigns will be more intensified in Muslim-dominated areas. Among focus issues will be Triple Talaq and the general upliftment of the community.
The seven municipalities going to polls on 14 May are:
* Raigunj (North Dinajpur)
* Domkal (Murshidabad)
* Pujali (South 24 Parganas)
To urge the community to give it a chance, the party may highlight the 'lavish lifestyles' of Muslims in BJP-ruled Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.
“In West Bengal, All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) has made false promises for the upliftment of the Muslims. They remain poor. Schemes launched by Mamata Banerjee's government have not elevated them to lead a lavish lifestyle. Only 3% Muslims got government jobs here," said Dilip Ghosh, state president of the BJP.
The party has also decided to go all out to convince Muslims that it is not trying to divide Bengal along communal lines.
"We will try to provide more jobs for the Muslim population in the state, just as we did in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. In Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, Muslims drive BMWs and Audis. Most of them are rich. Here, they queue up for Rs 2 a kilo rice and bicycles," Ghosh said.
According to him, educating them would help them empower themselves.
A Bengal BJP source said according to a party survey, 40% voters in the seven municipalities are Muslims. The party will field Muslim candidates in 5% of the seats.
In fact, in Raigunj and Domkal, the party will field Muslim candidates in almost all wards. In Pujali, it will be in seven-eight wards in the municipality's Muslim belt, a senior leader said.
Party workers will visit each Muslim household in these municipalities to convince them that it is not dividing people on communal lines. Rather, the Trinamool government's promises are false and they favour only appeasement politics, according to Ghosh.
"We will urge them to vote the BJP as the Centre has launched various schemes for minority welfare,” he said.
“Party president Amit Shah has asked us to avoid unnecessary controversy regarding beef and cow slaughter. So we have decided to appeal to all intellectuals to join hands with us to make people aware of the need for banning Triple Talaq. Even Muslim women workers will also visit some of the households and try to convince them,” he added.
The other side
The Trinamool, on the other hand, has decided to highlight religious polarisation in the state and the BJP's role in it. A senior party leader said the BJP was trying to gain attention by all means, including defamation.
“They are even using abusive language against our chief minister. Our party will also try to convince Muslims not to fall prey to such eye-wash," the leader said.
On Sunday, Shyam Mondal, BJP's West Midnapore district president called the CM "an eunuch".
Earlier on 12 April, a BJP leader Yogesh Varshney announced a reward of Rs 11 lakh for anyone who beheads Banerjee.
“People of Bengal know how the BJP is trying to divide them along communal lines. We are confident that despite all their efforts to woo Muslims, they will vote for us," state Parliamentary Affairs Minister Partha Chatterjee said.
"Our leader has struggled all her life to acquire a strong position in Bengal. BJP does not have any base here. We are confident that our vote share will increase more in the upcoming municipal elections," he added.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen