West Bengal Election: Furfura Sharif cleric Abbas Siddiqui’s association with the Congress and Left has got chief minister Mamata Banerjee worried for two reasons — division of minority votes and further alienation of Left Hindu votes. Siddiqui has been delivering poll speeches that by no means are secular in nature – a fact observed by many following the election campaigns closely. Even the Congress leaders have objected to the alliance with Siddiqui’s Indian Secular Front (ISF). But Mamata Banerjee has other reasons to worry.
In the last couple of elections, it has been observed that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has cornered the votes of Hindus, who until a few years ago backed the Left. In these years, the TMC has held on to its vote share but the Left lost its base to an emergent BJP. History shows that electorate do not want to waste their votes and tend to vote for the party which has the potential to defeat ones they want to see out of the contest. Now, it is believed that the voters of the Left can make two choices, either to return to the Left or stay with the BJP.
Mamata Banerjee would be happy to see Left wrestling back Hindu votes from the BJP because this way the majority votes will be divided and the ruling TMC could emerge victorious in the case of tight contests. However, Siddiqui’s hardliner approach against the majority has upset many TMC leaders who now think that the influential cleric may end up doing what the saffron party wants. Polarise. The TMC leaders worry that Siddiqui’s ‘fundamentalist’ approach would not help the Left gain back the Hindus, who will choose to stay back with the BJP, hurting both the Congress-Left alliance and the ruling Trinamool Congress.
Speaking to The Indian Express, TMC MP Sukhendu Sekhar Ray talked about this evolving scenario in Bengal. He said Siddiqui is a “fundamentalist”, and an association with his ISF may backfire for the Left and Congress. The TMC leader said that one only needs to see videos of his speeches. The TMC, he said, has stood for secularism, and our stance is that Muslims and Hindus have always stayed together in amity in Bengal, and bar the BJP which believes in polarisation. “Even the Congress and Left have stood for that. But Siddiqui is a fundamentalist and that is clear from his speeches. This affects the Left and the Congress too. They are playing with fire. In areas of their influence, such as Murshidabad and Malda, this could have negative impacts as well,” Ray told IE.
The vote share and seats of past two Lok Sabha elections show how the BJP has eaten into the votes of the Left. In 2014, the TMC got 39 per cent votes and 34 of 42 Lok Sabha seats while the Left secured nearly 30 per cent votes and two seats. The BJP in this election got just 17 per cent votes with 2 seats. However, in 2019, the BJP emerged as the second most powerful force in Bengal with vote share jumping to nearly 41 per cent and seats going up to 18. In this election, the Left lost its vote share from nearly 30 in 2014 to just over 6 per cent in 2019. The TMC, however, managed to hold on to its support and increased its vote share by 4 per cent to to 43 per cent. Now if this continues in the assembly election then the BJP would further dent the Left prospect which would in no way help Mamata Banerjee.