The Muslim voter is expected to play a key role in the West Bengal elections. The state accounts for the second highest population of Muslims in India (2.47 crore) and third highest, in terms of proportion (27 percent).
This is based on the 2011 Census and latest estimates put it at around 30 percent of the population.
The Muslim vote could influence the outcome of 102 constituencies, that is, almost 35 percent of the Assembly strength.
Muslim population in Bengal is more than 25 percent in the districts of Malda, Murshidabad, North Dinajpur, South 24 Parganas, North 24 Parganas, Nadia and Birbhum.
In three districts of West Bengal -- Malda, Murshidabad and North Dinajpur -- the population of Muslims is higher than that of the Hindus.
The Muslim vote is all the more important this time around because of the Hindu awakening witnessed in the Lok Sabha polls in 2019 in which the Bharatiya Janata Party won 18 seats and received a bumper 40% vote share relegating Left Front to a non-entity and scaring Didi to the hilt.
Muslims were traditional voters of the Left since the late 1970s. However, they switched over to the Trinamool Congress in the backdrop of the Sachar Committee's 2006 revelation of their dismal condition in the state.
The Sachar Committee named West Bengal as one of the worst states for Muslims to live in.
Whoever the community supported supported in the past went on to win the elections.
The Left got 56 percent of the Muslim votes in 2006 and swept the state, bagging 233 of the 294 seats.
In the 2011 and 2016 Assembly elections, the TMC got majority Muslim support and won both the elections back to back.
In 2019 Lok Sabha polls, TMC bagged 65% minority votes as the community felt Mamata is in much better shape to challenge Modi.
In the last three state elections, the TMC has 39 percent of the seats which had a perceptible Muslim influence. In the last two, 54 percent.
Mamata Banerjee has taken a lot of measures to woo the minority community:
Giving allowance/stipends to imams
Providing free bicycles to girls studying in madrasas
Making scholarships available to Muslim students (class I to X)
Offering reservation to Muslim OBCs
Banning the telecast of a drama series by controversial author Taslima Nasrin
Making Urdu the second official language in districts where the Urdu-speaking population is more than 10 percent
Increasing the tickets given to Muslims by 50 percent from 38 to 57 in state Assembly elections.
The voting pattern of Muslims is based not just on governance, but also on security. Although the Congress has pockets of influence concentrated in and around Malda and Murshidabad districts, Mamata has now emerged as the community's preferred choice.
In 2006, the Justice Sachar Committee report on the social, economic and educational status of Muslims in the country placed Bengal in the category of ‘worst’ performing states.
A decade later, another report put together by social scientists says the status of Muslims in Bengal has shown little improvement, marking the political class’s indifference to the well-being of the Muslim community.
In an interview to the Week, Siddiqullah Chowdhury, WB minister & president, Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, Bengal said, “There would be some decline as there is an increase in the number of bribe-takers and blackmailers. But, overall, the Muslim has no reason to desert Mamata Banerjee.”
Given that BJP is in serious contention to win the elections after already making a dent in Mamata’s citadel in 2019, Mamata needs to not only maintain but increase her support among the community.
There is a danger that some Muslim voters who voted for the TMC in 2019 could shift towards the Left-Congress Mahajot alliance in Malda and Murshidabad.
AIMIM’s Owaisi has declared that his party will be forming an alliance with Islamic cleric Abbas Siddiqui and will be contesting in 100 odd seats.
While this has been criticised by the West Bengal Imam organization, this is expected to heat up the competition for the Muslim vote.
TMC was ahead of the BJP by just 3% votes in the 2019 general elections. A loss of support of even 10% of the community support to AIMIM or Mahajot could rob Mamata of 3% vote share and placing her party on an equal pedestal with BJP.
Aggressive wooing of the community by opposition parties comes with a risk of counter-polarisation. Mamata needs to guard against this as polarisation helps the BJP, and, at the same time, prevent a split of community votes.
Will Muslims will become the "man of the match" for Mamata in 2016? Interesting times ahead.