On 4th January 2021, Asaduddin Owaisi made his long announced trip to West Bengal. He held meetings with Muslim clerics and asked Abbas Siddiqui, a Muslim cleric to lead his party’s campaign in West Bengal. Mr. Siddiqui is a cleric of the Furfura Sharif shrine, present in the Hooghly district of West Bengal. Mr. Siddiqui has decided to enter the political fray, the first person belonging to the shrine to do so. He plans to contest 44 seats and is trying to build an alliance with other Muslim organizations that plans to contest 90 seats. He has claimed that he is in talks with CPM and Congress as well. Though his uncle and senior cleric of the shrine, Toha Siddique, has endorsed Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamool Congress has a strong base of Muslim leaders, the entry of AIMIM and the formation of a separate Muslim party/alliance in Bengal was described by many in the media as a threat to Mamata’s chance of victory.
A brief review of AIMIM’s rise to power
The MIM party was formed way back in 1927. At that time, Hyderabad was a princely state that was governed by a “nawab”. It was a pro nizam and “Muslim-supremacist” party. At one point in time, its head Qasim Razvi was the head of The Razakars, a militia that opposed Hyderabad’s integration with India and that was responsible for the murder of many Hindus in the state. After being integrated with India, the party was banned. The party was reorganized as AIMIM in 1957.
In 1984 Sultan Salahuddin Owaisi, its leader, won the Hyderabad Lok Sabha seat, contesting as an independent. Since then, the AIMIM has never lost the seat and Asaduddin Owaisi, Salahuddin’s son, has been elected from the seat since 2004. It has had a long presence in the Telangana (formerly Andhra Pradesh) legislatures.
The party came to be seen as a political force when it won its second Lok Sabha seat—Aurangabad in Maharashtra—defeating the Shiv Sena in a close contest. Arguably, the party’s most consequential result came in the Bihar assembly elections in 2020, wherein it won 5 seats in a razor-tight election between the NDA and the UPA. Many analysts blame the loss of the UPA on the splitting of the Muslim votes in Bihar by AIMIM. Even though the “loss because of vote cutting hypothesis” is not backed up by the data, the results were a tail of caution for the “secular” parties that have backed on the Muslim votes.
The success in Bihar has only emboldened Mr. Owaisi. He has smartly targeted Muslim dominated seats and campaigned on an agenda that is both against the BJP and what he dubs as the “Secular” parties.
The effect in Bengal
There are 19 districts in West Bengal, 5 of the districts have a population of over 35 percent, and these have 85 seats.
The BJP did exceedingly well in Bengal in 2019 winning 19 of the 42 West Bengal Lok Sabha seats. If we translate those Lok Sabha results into assembly results, the BJP did better than AITC (All India Trinamool Congress) in the seats that lie in districts that have a Muslim population of less than 35 percent.
It is in the seats that lie in districts that have over 35 percent of Muslims that Mamata Banerjee over-performed the BJP, even in the 2019 LS elections
The winning margin in the 85 close seats has been grouped into 4 categories and the number of seats in each category is shown below
The AIMIM secured an average of ~15 % in 20 seats that it contested in the 2020 Bihar legislative elections.
If 15 % is transferred from Trinamool Congress to the AIMIM alliance, the BJP would get ahead of the AITC in the Muslim dominated seats
Assuming that the loss is shared by both the AITC ( 80%) and INC & CPM (20%), AITCwould be ahead of BJP in these seats but not by much
There are a lot of variables in play and it is unlikely that the vote shift (if there is any) will be evenly distributed across all the seats, but the situation does not look good for AITC if Owaisi can repeat what he did in Bihar.
(The author does not support voting on religious/caste lines. The number (15%) is an assumption and is to be treated as such)