Mamata Banerjee is back in the news. She has made two heavily loaded statements in the past week and there are clear signs that she is worried about losing her Muslim vote bank in West Bengal.

Earlier this week, she had hit out at AIMIM chief, Asaduddin Owaisi, and blamed him for fanning minority extremism in West Bengal. On Wednesday, minutes after Union home minister Amit Shah’s statement on NRC, she said that she would not allow it in Bengal.

Rise of BJP and split in Muslim votes:

Mamata hitting out at Owaisi is a clear sign that she fears an eroding of her Muslim vote bank. Owaisi had announced that his party would contest in all the 294 seats in Bengal in the 2021 elections.

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The rate at which the AIMIM has been increasing its base among the Muslim dominated areas has worried many including Mamata and her Trinamool Congress. The Muslims form 28% (2.47 crore) of the population of Bengal and have voted for the TMC in large numbers since 2011.

It was in the year 2011 that a large part of the Muslim votes moved to the TMC from the Left. Bengal hosts the second largest number of Muslims and every fourth vote is that of a Muslim and this is something that the TMC cannot lose fact of. With Owaisi making significant inroads, the TMC is clearly worded. If Owaisi does manage to split the Muslim vote, then Mamata would be staring at defeat in 2021, with the BJP being the major challenger.

Owaisi has spared no effort to project himself as the champion of the Muslims. Being a Muslim himself, he also has that edge over Mamata. He has in fact on several occasions assured that he would restore the lost Muslim pride.

While Mamata’s core vote bank of 28% is currently under threat, she has not had an easy time with the rise of the BJP as well. The BJP has been very clear in its agenda and has very often accused Mamata of being too pro-Muslim to save her vote bank.

In the 2016 Assembly elections, the TMC won 211 seats and the BJP ended up with three. The TMC’s vote share stood at 44.9%, while the BJP made an impressive gain with 12%. However, the BJP rattled the TMC in the 2019 elections, when its vote share went up to 39% and it had become clear that the Hindus had backed the BJP heavily, while shifting away from the TMC. The TMC’s vote share on the other stood at 43% in 2019. The final tally was TMC-22, BJP-18 and Congress-2.

Losing both Hindu and Muslim votes:

With Mamata losing the Hindu votes rapidly, her chances in 2021 have been made even more difficult due to Owaisi. Her heavily loaded statement of accusing Owaisi of minority extremism was also a way of swinging the Hindu votes in her favour, analysts tell MyNation.

The AIMIM contesting all the seats in Bengal, will not impact the BJP as it has towed a very clear line. It is more likely to hit Mamata’s Muslim vote bank and hence she is trying to do reverse appeasement with an aim of capturing the BJP’s vote share. Owaisi over the years has come out of his Hyderabad mode and has done reasonably well in the states of Bihar and Maharashtra as well. He has now set his eyes on Bengal and even if he is able to make a minor difference in the 28% vote share of the Muslims, the tables would turn for Mamata Banerjee.

Owaisi has been engaging heavily in Kolkata, Malda, Murshidabad, North Dinajpur, Jalpaiguri and Nadia districts, which have a significant number of Muslims. What has raised his hope is the win at Kishanganj in Bihar. 22% of the Muslims live in Kolkata, while Murshidabad has 67%. On the other hand, 51% are Muslims in North Dinajpur and 52% live in Malda.

Knowing fully well that the votes from both the communities are slipping out, Mamata had last year even visited the Ganga Sagar Mela. Further the TMC also organised a Brahmin convention. In January, when the BJP organised the Ram Navami processions, the TMC organised similar functions as well. Further the largesse shown by the TMC during the Durga Puja celebrations were also clear indications that the party is trying to cozy up to the Hindus.

Opposing NRC:

While on one hand, Mamata is trying to regain the Hindu vote banks, on the other, she is going all out to protect her Muslim vote bank as well. When Shah said in the Rajya Sabha that an NRC would be conducted in every state, Mamata was quick to retort and say that she would not allow it in Bengal.

She has said that the NRC is a vote bank and divide and rule policy of the BJP. In fact, the Bengal Assembly had even passed a resolution condemning the NRC. An interesting fact is that West Bengal was the biggest defaulter in responding to the citizenship claim of the people who migrated from the state to Assam before March 24, 1971. There were in all 1.15 lakh queries that had been sent to the Bengal government in a bid to establish parental legal for the applicants residing in Assam. However, the West Bengal government had responded to just 7,500 queries.

The real problem for Mamata is that the ones who will be left out of the NRC will largely be Muslims as they make up for 99% of the illegal immigration problem in India. In fact, the 2004 data suggests that of the 1.2 crore illegal Bangladeshis living in India, 54 lakh are in Bengal alone. In the year 2016, data suggested that in all there were 2 crore illegal Bangladeshis living in India.

Home ministry officials say that going by several reports provided to us by the Intelligence Bureau and other law enforcement agencies, most of them have voter identification cards. Now if an NRC is to be carried out and a person is declared illegal, he loses voting rights. This would be a huge hit for any political party that relies on these votes.

If the TMC does want to argue that these are wrong allegations, then one must revisit Mamata Banerjee’s statement in Parliament made in the year 2005. She had said illegal immigrants from Bangladesh are also part of the voters’ list in West Bengal. The issue must be discussed as the state government had nothing about it. When she was stopped from raising the issue, she resigned from the Lok Sabha.

Times have changed today, and it was the same vote bank that Mamata has used to the fullest to come to power in West Bengal twice in a row. The late Arun Jaitley had written on Twitter,” the infiltration in Bengal has become a disaster now. I have both the Bangladeshi and the Indian voters list. This is a very serious matter and I would like to know when it would be discussed in the House.”